Vanessa V. Friedman
December 15, 1995 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Education of Oscar Fairfax

Current Status
In Season
Louis Auchincloss

We gave it a B

The Education of Oscar Fairfax Louis Auchincloss (Houghton Mifflin, $22.95) The trim, slightly sardonic, always mannered drawing-room novel — once a genre of its own, now a dying breed — is the literary realm of Auchincloss, New York lawyer, old WASP, and eagle-eyed social observer. His 39th novel is really a character study of the privileged classes and the seeming consistency of the males they breed. Its antihero is one Oscar Fairfax, a direct descendant of a British peer, although by the time this story is told, his family has become part of Wall Street’s royalty. Oscar is a partner in the law firm that bears his name, as was his father before him. He has a lovely, slightly subversive wife and a stringently moral son (who also joins the firm). He himself dabbles in subversion and comtemplates morality, but never to a really committed degree, which is the question at the heart of this book: What kind of a man is Oscar Fairfax? It is a question that once might have preoccupied a wide readership, when names like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt (and Auchincloss) meant something. In these media-centric, politically correct days, however, it is hard to know if anyone will care enough to try to figure out the answer. B

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