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Picks and Pans Review: The Fundamentals of Play

updated 07/17/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/17/2000 01:00AM

by Caitlin Macy

Fitzgerald and Hemingway are different from you and me: They're dead. Not, however, to Caitlin Macy, who has summoned their spirits in an insightful first novel about freshly minted Ivy League grads on the prowl for love (but willing to settle for stock options) in early-'90s Manhattan.

Like Fitzgerald, Macy winks at a world where it's always cocktail hour, young bucks actually trade quips at gentlemen's clubs, and sleeping may be optional but sailing is not. Narrator George Lenhart, whose family's old money has mildewed instead of multiplied, quietly longs for the engagingly cruel patrician Kate Goode-now. She prefers the attentions of a panting pup named Harry Lombardi, a sawed-off social outcast who finds that a little money can make you an incast. The finale is fraught with Victorian contrivance, but so is The Great Gatsby's; in both cases, what resonates is the style and sharp eye for detail.

Macy, 30, writes with an insider's wisdom, which lends a note of empathy to her satire of glossy misery. Her character shadings rival Hemingway's: George is as heartbreakingly inert as Jake Barnes and Kate as frustratingly unreachable as Lady Brett in The Sun Also Rises. And like Hemingway, Macy finds the poetry of regret without stumbling into sentimentality. (Random House, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Tour de force

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