Published by Reagan Arthur Books
Publication date: February 5th 2013
In Wise Men, we meet Arthur Wise the man who created class action lawsuits when he sued an airline company after their flight crashed in the 1950s. From being a brash, rude, arrogant and penniless lawyer he went to a multi-millionaire who created a livelihood first out of suing the airlines and then by working for them. Wise Men begins when Arthur, first flush with success, buys a house far out on a point of Cape Cod. His business partner, Robert, buys one even further out so they can continue working even when not in the office. The house comes with a black caretaker, whom Arthur delights in bullying and demeaning. When Robert and Arthur are both working from home, he makes Lem run papers between the two houses, as there is no phone service, and despite Lem’s advanced age. For his son, Hilton (called Hilly) watching his father treat Lem like this is difficult but standing up to his father, impossible.
This, I decided, was the true gift my father had, not a gift for oratory, or for managing the press, but for degrading those who disagreed with him, who crossed him.
Even after Hilly meets Lem’s niece, Savannah, and embarks on his first high school crush, he can’t imagine doing anything against his father’s will, which is all powerful and the center of their lives. Instead, when events go bad and he is under his father’s wrath, he turns on Lem and unleashes a chain of events that haunt him for the rest of his life.
In a professional mea culpa to Lem and Savannah, Hilly becomes a journalist who focuses solely on violence against blacks. He is completely estranged from his father and refuses to touch his seven million dollar trust. He uses his journalistic skills to try and track Savannah and her father, Charles, a former baseball player who never quite made it and finds solace in gambling. It is here that the book slows down. Hilly hears of an incident involving Charles and goes to find Savannah under the guide of investigating. All paths converge and Hilly, who has never been able to sustain a long term relationship finds Savannah married. He tries to affect some resolution to the horrible events of their youth but is unsuccessful.
Wise Men follows the characters throughout their adult lives and succeeds at capturing the difficulty of father-son relationships. Where it stumbles is Hilly’s motivation in his quest for Savannah. It is difficult to believe it is love because they spent a total of one evening together when they were in their teens. More likely it is guilt over Hilly’s part in Lem’s downfall but even that is shadowy at best. When his girlfriend becomes pregnant events propel him onto a more established path but he never stops looking for answers to questions that are not readily apparent. It isn’t until the book’s final pages that author Stuart Nadler drops a bombshell that changes everything. This is either extremely well-done in that it forces the reader to re-examine every characters’ actions and motivations or it is a cheap trick to give meaning to a book that was floundering. I was left somewhere in the middle.