Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Ghost Writer opens as young Nathan Zuckerman comes to visit the distinguished stylist E. I. Lonoff at his home in the Berkshires. Zuckerman is filled with admiration and awe for the older writer, with whom he enjoys discussing literature. He is struck, moreover, by the young woman, Amy Bellette, a former student of Lonoff, who is helping Lonoff assemble his papers for deposit in the Harvard library where she works. He is also struck by Lonoff’s wife, Hope, the descendant of New England families different from Lonoff’s Russian-Jewish heritage. At several points, she expresses extreme frustration with the life her husband leads and asks him to “chuck her out” in favor of Amy Bellette, who is obviously in love with him. Lonoff has no intentions of doing any such thing; although he recognizes the young woman’s attractions and devotion to him, he is loyal to his wife and rejects all of her exhortations to the contrary.
Amazed by the situation he finds, but flattered by Lonoff’s praise of his work so far—four published short stories—Zuckerman is easily persuaded to spend the night on a daybed in Lonoff’s study. While trying to write a letter to his father, he finds and reads The Middle Years by Henry James. Lonoff has excerpted an intriguing passage from it about the “madness of art” and pinned it to a bulletin board near his desk. Later, after Amy returns for the evening, Zuckerman hears an argument in the bedroom...
(The entire section is 1196 words.)
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The Novels (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The trilogy and epilogue gathered together in Zuckerman Bound trace twenty years in the literary and personal life of Nathan Zuckerman. His story begins in The Ghost Writer, narrated by Zuckerman in 1976, which recounts events of twenty years earlier. At odds with his father and pillars of his community such as Judge Leopold Wapter over the content of his first stories, which present unflattering portraits of Jewish characters, Nathan visits the isolated Berkshire home of E. I. Lonoff, “the most famous literary ascetic in America,” to submit himself for candidacy as a spiritual son.
During the winter evening and morning he spends at Lonoff’s, he gets the validation that he is seeking—Lonoff toasts “a wonderful new writer” and declares that Nathan has “the most compelling voice I’ve encountered in years.” He also gets, however, a lesson he had not anticipated: about just how much the religion of art to which he has dedicated himself demands of its acolytes and of those close to them.
For if Nathan’s dedication to his art has begun to alienate him from his loving family, Lonoff’s single-minded dedication to his parables of “terminal restraint,” to a life made up of “turning sentences around,” has already cut him off from those nearest to him, especially his wife, Hope. While Nathan is visiting, her frustration and unhappiness explode, destroying his illusions that a writer’s life will be a serene...
(The entire section is 1580 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Nathan Zuckerman has published several short stories that, although critically well received, have caused conflict within his family. His story “Higher Education” is a thinly fictionalized account of a family dispute over the distribution of an inheritance, and it portrays Jews in an unflattering and stereotypical—although to Nathan, realistic and necessary—light.
After corresponding with his literary idol, E. I. Lonoff, an older Russian Jewish writer, Zuckerman leaves for a visit to Lonoff’s secluded home in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. Zuckerman seeks validation from Lonoff to counter the criticism he is receiving at home; moreover, he wants to see firsthand the writer’s life he so idealizes.
Zuckerman’s visit with Lonoff shows a marriage in turmoil, the price that a serious writer pays in devotion to his or her craft. Adding to the family strife is the presence of the young, attractive Jewish student currently staying with Lonoff, Amy Bellette. As Nathan retires to bed, he imagines that Amy is none other than Anne Frank, the renowned diarist and Holocaust chronicler. Zuckerman fantasizes about marrying Frank and taking her home to meet his parents. In the morning, it becomes clear again that Amy is not Frank. Zuckerman returns to New York City, but not before Lonoff’s wife sets off on foot, intending to leave Lonoff, and Lonoff follows her.
Zuckerman is in the middle of a third divorce. He is now wealthy and...
(The entire section is 732 words.)