A Voice from Old New York:
A Memoir of My Youth
by Louis Auchincloss
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$25.00 List Price
Early in A Voice from Old New York, a posthumous memoir by Louis Auchincloss, who died last January, the author relates, in typically breezy manner, an anecdote about "my richest friend and contemporary, Marshall Field IV." The Chicago newspaperman's death in 1965, from a drug overdose, was the result of Field's "tragic inheritance," writes Auchincloss. He's not referring to the hand-me-down wealth and privilege that so often hollow out great families, but to the "nervous troubles" that plagued Field's father and presumably led his grandfather to suicide. "The story of the Fields is like that of the House of Atreus," Auchincloss writes. Fin. "I draw the curtain."
Field is obviously long gone; Auchincloss, as he writes this, is a nonagenarian memoirist tucked safely away on Park Avenue. Isn't this the perfect time for him to open the curtain? Alas, the prolific chronicler of the old-money Manhattan elite is as stingy as ever with the juicy details. "A fine stylist but no puncher," Newsweek decided way back in 1954. His most trenchant works were still to come, but for all their virtues, 1964's The Rector of Justin and 1966's The Embezzler (both finalists for the National Book Award) didn't exactly inflame readers outside the author's tight-knit circle of Groton grads and white-shoe firms.
Auchincloss had an insatiable curiosity about his class, and that is what made him an exception to it. As he relates in these latest tales from his youth, Auchincloss alarmed his parents with his interest in vulgar displays of wealth and loved debutante balls, although he preferred talking