East Side Story: A Novel

East Side Story: A Novel

"Louis Auchincloss has an enveloping story to tell and a perfect, understated knowledge of those who inhabit it," said the New York Times of The Scarlet Letters. The same can be said of Auchincloss's new novel, a tour de force that charts the rise of one uncommon family in America's grand city.

How did the families who live on Manhattan's Upper East Side get to where they are today? As much a penetrating social history as it is engaging fiction, East Side Story tells of the Carnochans, a family whose Scottish forebears establish themselves in New York's textile business during the Civil War. From there they quickly move on to seize prominent positions in the country's top schools and Manhattan's elite firms. As the novel unfolds, family members across the generations recount their stories, illuminating lives steeped in both good fortune and moral jeopardy. From women who outsmart their foolish husbands, to ambitious lawyers who protect the Carnochan name, to the family's artists and writers, all weigh the question that infuses so much of Auchincloss's fiction: what makes for a meaningful life in a family that has so much?

In its starred review, Kirkus Reviews hails Auchincloss for being "once again the master of his craft." East Side Story is both a loving and wicked look at New York's own as only this sublime master of manners can provide.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547630601

  • ISBN-10: 0547630603

  • Pages: 240

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 12/02/2004

  • Carton Quantity: 1

Louis Auchincloss
Author

Louis Auchincloss

Louis Auchincloss was honored in the year 2000 as a “Living Landmark” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. During his long career he wrote more than sixty books, including the story collection Manhattan Monologues and the novel The Rector of Justin. The former president of the Academy of Arts and Letters, he resided in New York City until his death in January 2010.
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  • excerpts

    1 Peter

    To celebrate, next New Year’s Day of the year 1904, the seventy-fifth anniversary of our arrival on this side of the Atlantic, my great-nephew David urged me, as the only published author of the family, to write up a history of the Carnochans to be privately printed and distributed to the many descendants of my father, the original David, who, three quarters of a century ago, emigrated as a young man from Scotland to establish a branch of the family thread business in New York. When I pleaded age and illness as an excuse, he asked me at least to contribute a first chapter about my father, whom I, as the youngest of his offspring, was the sole survivor to remember, pointing out that as the patriarch had left no letters or journal, there would be nothing but account books with which to reconstruct his personality.

    But would that be such a bad thing?

    Father’s obituary notices in 1869 were fulsome in their pompous tribute, but I always kept in a special file the funeral address of his Presbyterian pastor, which contained this gem:

    He was not a man of smooth words, a disguised flatterer, nor a person to seek even good ends by craft and indirectness. Making no pretensions to literary culture, though well instructed in all that belonged to his profession and his church, he dealt more in forcible reasons than in fair speeches, and this in business as in religion. It is just the sort of character which we should lament to see going out of date. Of any man it is sufficient eulogy to say that he so uses his powers as to be virtuously successful in his chosen calling. Such honor belongs to David Carnochan. The judgment of the commercial circle in this city, as uttered in the great centers of business in our emporium, is decisive on this point.

    When I suggested to my great-nephew that he use this for his first chapter, he simply said: “Uncle Peter, you’re making fun of me.” Yet every word the pastor had written was true! The New York of that simpler day had at least not been hypocritical. It actually believed those things!

    Well, I was not going to let myself sink into the role of crank, so I drafted for David a short, dry, factual account of my father’s business and domestic life, which will constitute the innocuous preface to his little book. Don’t most readers skip prefaces, anyway?

    But as I wrote it, I found myself wondering if I shouldn’t try my hand at a few pages on what Father was really like, at least as a father. And then I realized that any such portrait would be just as much a portrait of the son as the father, for each term implied the existence of the other. Well, why not? It would be the portrait of a relationship, and maybe that was as good a way as any to approach truth.

    So here it is. David will never print it in his family book, but something tells me he will not throw it away. David is no fool.

    We don’t know much about our origins in Paisley. Paisley is an ancient town, set in the plain of the Cart rivers, seven miles west of Glasgow, in Renfrewshire, and a great thread manufacturing center. Some of the family used to take pride in the fact that David the emigrant came of a clan already established in business in the Old World rather than as an adventurous beggar or a refugee from religious persecution or even an ex-convict. But some of our less-reverent youngsters liked to circulate a story about my older brother Douglas — my father’s true heir and prosperous business successor — when he returned to the homeland in quest of one of those family trees which (the mockers claimed) Edinburgh genealogists produced at so much a head for each Bruce, Stewart, or Wallace added, and happened to hire an ancient caddy (Scots had such then) at a Paisley golf course. “I am here, my man,” Douglas is reputed to have informed the old boy in a lordly tone as they trudged across the green, “to trace my family origins. My name is Carnochan. Perhaps you have heard of it.” “I have indeed!” was the caddy’s enthusiastic rejoinder. “It’s my name! And I do recall that my mither used to say one branch had crossed the ocean and done better!” Despite this suggestion of less than Olympian origin, Douglas returned to New York with a tree bristling with lords and ladies. He always denied the caddy story.

    Today the fashion has changed, at least in the younger set, and people like to boast that they stem from sturdier stock, from outlaws and sheep stealers and pirates, but I suspect that the truth is that the Carnochans in the Old World were pretty much what they became in the New: good burghers with a sharp eye for a deal. You would not have found one of them risking a copper penny for Mary Stuart or Bonnie Prince Charlie.

    The outline of Father’s liffe that I gave to young David was, of course, factually accurate. Father was considered a success at each of the few things he undertook. HHHHHe was a prosperous merchant in a town that boasted dozens of even more prosperous ones; he served a term as president of the American Dry Goods Association; he was a revered elder of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, and he enjoyed a seemingly tranquil marriage to the daughter of a fellow Paisley emigrant on whom he sired a multitude of children. I might here note, for whatever significance it may have, that all his many living descendants stem from only one of these, my brother Douglas. The rest died either childless or unwed.

    What I have earlier written makes it pretty clear, I guess, that Father was a granite pillar of respectability. He lived simply but well in a big square red-brick house on Great Jones Street and a summer villa on Staten Island, entertaining frugally his carefully chosen few friends, mostly fellow Scots, and punctiliously attending divine services. He never cultivated the society of Gotham, where he would, in any case, have been considered too dour a guest; it was his son Douglas, whose wife, Eliza, was of ancient colonial stock, who went in for that. Father, needless to add, frowned severely on the frivolities of dancing and drinking and general hilarity. He had his own strict views of what such things led to.

    But what I want to get at is what Father was to me, his youngest and physically frailest child. He was a tall, lean, gaunt man with large craggy features and thick unkempt gray hair — or is that simply the way I see him, looking back, without a trace of nostalgia, at those early years? No doubt I exaggerate his formidability. Neither of my brothers seemed to feel it as I did. And I admit there was a surprising serenity in his pale blue eyes, and that he never lifted a hand to any of us or even lost his temper, and that there was an air of mild benignity in what I could not help feeling was a basic exemption from the usual family attachments. No, he was not a bad man; there was no cruelty in his firmness, or malice, or even ego in his insistence on domestic obedience. What was it about him, then, that filled me with such unutterable dismay?

    What it was, I can now only suppose, was that he resolutely denied — with the blind faith of a latter-day John Knox — that there was anything but potential evil in all the things that to me made life worthwhile: in love and laughter and merry companionship, in sports and theater, and, worst of all, in art. In short: in pleasure. Life to David Carnochan was something simply to be got through by satisfying the fleshly appetites only with such aliments as were necessary to sustain it and only with so much coition as was needed to maintain it for God’s glory on earth. And so he ran a business in thread to shield nudity not only from the cold but from temptation, a...

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547630601

  • ISBN-10: 0547630603

  • Pages: 240

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 12/02/2004

  • Carton Quantity: 1

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