Living up to a name – “Wise Men” by Stuart Nadler

August 29, 2013 at 5:18 pm Leave a comment

“Wise Men” by Stuart Nadler, Published in 2013

I really, really loved this book.  I read it in two days just because I needed to find out what was going to happen. The writing is great, the characters are interesting and the story was engaging – it is the grand trifecta that makes a reader smile.

The book is set in three different times in Hilly (Hilton) Wise’s life.  It begins when he is a teenager in 1952.  Hilly’s father, Art, is an ambulance chaser barely making ends meet by spending his nights sitting in the hospital waiting room hoping to snag his next great case.  When a Boston Airways plane crashes killing some passengers and injuring others, Art takes on the airline. Almost overnight Art becomes a famous and wealthy attorney representing injured passengers in all kinds of airline lawsuits.  And so Hilly’s life completely changes.  Most notably, his father buys a house right on the ocean in Blue Point, on the tip of Cape Cod.  The house comes with the previous owner’s “boy” – Lem is an African-American man who takes care of the property.

As the Wise family moves into the property and settles into a summer on the Cape, Hilly struggles as he watches Art’s severe treatment of Lem.  Art uses Lem to courier papers and files between his house and his partner Robert’s house down the beach.  Lem is sent on countless trips down a broken, dangerous boardwalk balancing large stacks of legal documents in the sweltering summer heat.  It is uncomfortable to watch for Hilly and it is uncomfortable to read for the reader.  The pivotal moment of the summer in 1952 comes when Hilly meets Lem’s niece, Savannah.  She is beautiful and engaging – she finds Hilly’s awkwardness endearing.  She is also living in extreme poverty.  Hilly begins trying to save Savannah from her plight and all of this leads to an evening where Hilly and Savannah’s relationship is discovered which, in 1952 America, is both dangerous and heartbreaking.

The end result of all of this is that Lem is sent to prison and Savannah disappears from Hilly’s life.  The second part, set in 1972, and third part, set in 2008 , of the book are Hilly’s life and his time spent trying to make up for what happened in 1952 and his attempts to find Savannah.  He also spends his life trying to make sense of his father and his father’s role in Lem’s demise.

Hilly does, by all accounts, go on to have a full life but it is a life consciously haunted by Savannah.  He sees her everywhere and in everything.   She becomes a force for him.  It is also a life unconsciously haunted by his famous, wealthy father.  Hilly is not him, will not be him, will not take his money, will not let him invade his life, and on and on.   At the end both Savannah and his father reach a resolution with Hilly, each in a unique way.  And for the reader, maybe it is not the end you want or even foresee but somehow it is perfect.  It flows and gives the characters a new depth and some important hindsight.

Let me be clear (because the synopsis I read of this book was not), this is not a love story.  This is a story about relationships between fathers and sons, between marital and business partners, between races, between classes, between our past and our current selves.    It is packed with lessons about these relationships and how we fail each other only to then try harder and then fail again.  This book is a gentle reminder that our relationships give us the opportunity to become wiser and better, whether we do or not is entirely up to us.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience which is the bitterest.  – Confucius

Other reviews to check out:

– From These Little Words

– From Isabel Costello

– From The Book Jam Blog (which is where I got this recommendation and their book recommendations are always awesome)

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Entry filed under: August 2013 reads. Tags: , , , , .

An enigma, wrapped in a riddle, entwined with a mystery… – “The Cairo Diary” by Maxime Chattam My life as a legal aid lawyer

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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