Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

At the center of Begley’s thematic focus are loyalty to those with whom one is involved and how the bonds of friendship are tested by change. Development is key to Max’s understanding of the obligations that human relationships require. Max commences his story as an outsider. At the Rumorosa, when he is invited to join the others on a trip, he feels accepted “into a magical realm of cashless bounty and comfort.” Symbolic of that acceptance is his sexual encounter with the attractive Laura. It is also telling that, once Cousin Emma’s legacy makes him wealthy, he becomes even more at ease and more intimate with his wealthy friends. Near the end of the book, pondering his duty to care for Toby, Max asks, “Had I not assumed some sort of responsibility for how he was cared for?” He answers his own question by tending to his dying friend with compassion.

Solidarity, which is another form of loyalty, receives much of Max’s attention while he is in China and afterward. Speaking with Charlie about the Chinese cultural revolution that spills over into Tiananmen Square at the very time Max is teaching at Beijing University, Max is impressed by the show of solidarity among his students. Solidarity makes strong relationships, but it brings a need to forgive. Forgiveness, born of mature understanding, is part of the nurturing of human bonds, as when Max forgives Toby for sleeping with Camilla, even joining Charlie in donating blood to prolong his life....

(The entire section is 476 words.)