Skinny Island

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Louis Auchincloss’ characters in these twelve short stories have in common their wealth and their residence in Manhattan; they are also people with problems, sometimes within the family, or in society, or in business. Their problems include, most often, conflicts between generations, adultery, homosexuality, business ethics, and personal integrity. On the whole, these people are overwhelmed by these conflicts--some only temporarily so, but others permanently. The few characters who resolve their dilemmas are celebrated as triumphant; they are usually the morally sounder of their class and are as often as not women.

The author gives each of the major characters a concise physical description that vividly sets him in the reader’s mind, almost in a painterly fashion. Equally sharp is Auchincloss’ depiction of the tension and drama in these people’s lives. The author calls upon his own experiences as a lifelong Manhattan resident who has worked both on Wall Street and for the promotion of art. His discussions of painters and paintings are detailed and enlightening, as are his portraits of literary editors, bankers, and lawyers.

The reader will find delight in the author’s intricate plot development, lavish physical settings, and authentic dialogues. Auchincloss’ revelations of the various sides of each character’s tragedy or triumph are masterfully done; no facet of a problem or situation is left unexplored. Yet, for such detailed analyses, the reader never feels a sense of any story being too dense. These merits make Auchincloss’ short stories treasures to be enjoyed repeatedly.