The Boys of Winter

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The reader soon sees that THE BOYS OF WINTER is Jonathan Oglethorpe’s novel, narrated by himself, an editor extraordinaire and publisher at a high-quality, low-advance publishing house, and featuring several of his variously talented and prickly authors, who live in a literary community in the Hamptons. Jonathan has managed to woo Waldo Spinks into his fold, in the hope of wringing one more novel out of him. Waldo’s first opus, on the Korean War, launched his career with great fanfare, but since then he has eased into a steady decline. Waldo’s new novel, Jonathan learns, is about the literary community in which they live, features the other writers in the community as characters, and stars Jonathan himself, in the guise of Otis McIntyre, its chief villain.

Jonathan’s roman a clef is also about a literary community in the Hamptons, its chief villain being Waldo, who is writing a novel, and so on. Other characters include Billy van Dyne, who writes gorgeous, unpublishable prose; his seductive wife, Nikki; Ferris Fender, who writes of the glories of the Old South but prefers Northern boys; and Cecily Woodruff, Jonathan’s money-maker, who writes of heartbreak among Manhattan matrons. When Waldo and Jonathan join forces to organize a softball contest between local regulars and the visiting cast and crew of a Hollywood film, the result is explosive. Wilfrid Sheed elegantly fuses comedy with something darker to produce a sexy, violent, sad book that makes one laugh. Some believe that when art turns in upon itself, a civilization is in its decline. Sheed hits his mark gently. According to the author’s note, “Great literature is, of course, timeless. This novel is set in 1978.”