Picks and Pans Review: The Book Class

updated 08/13/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/13/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Louis Auchincloss

In New York before World War II, it was popular for young women of great wealth to form book clubs and hold regular discussions of a serious nature. The story of one such group is told in this slight, amusing novel by the son of one of the women, a man who—despite his banker father, a New England prep school and Yale University—has become a decorator and has cultivated the art of getting women to confide in him. This narrator ("We were not as rich as the Rockefellers or Mellons, but we were rich enough to know how rich they were") takes up each of the book club members in turn and tells revealing anecdotes about her life. Auchincloss, a New York attorney and author of 26 other novels and nine books of nonfiction, can overdo the irony: During a recounting of how one member saves her marriage to an architect with a roving eye, the book club members happen to be discussing Somerset Maugham's play The Constant Wife. But Auchincloss can be wonderfully funny too. When the women are going to talk about The Scarlet Letter, the butler is sent out for the afternoon because the hostess fears "a male presence might clog her guests' ease if a 'sexual' topic were to arise." The author brings a special authority to his stories about these women. Their money does make them different from the rest of us. Auchincloss, 66, who was born into an upper-crust New York family and is a Yale graduate himself, celebrates their unique qualities with all the affection of a lifelong insider. (Houghton Mifflin, $14.95)

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