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A Memoir of My Youth

A-A Voice from Old New YorkLouis Auchincloss (1917–2010) was born into old wealth and chronicled the lives of the East Coast upper class in no fewer than 60 books, while practicing law. Often criticized for his narrow subject matter, Auchincloss is nevertheless acclaimed for his elegant prose and astute observations of the patrician class. Reviewed: Last of the Old Guard ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2009)

The Topic: Louis Auchincloss spent much of his privileged childhood in a brownstone in the East End of Manhattan, surrounded by his family and four maids. All was not as it seemed, however, as his father struggled with depression and other family members succumbed to alcoholism. Eventually, young Louis was banished to boarding school, where he was ostracized for being a "snitch." His troubled years at Groton would later inspire one of his most acclaimed novels, The Rector of Justin. Auchincloss found his passion for writing during his final year at Yale, although the road was not smooth. Following his stint during World War II in the naval reserve, he finally found fame as an idiosyncratic writer--a Republican attorney listed in the Social Register--who portrayed the social and financial mores of the denizens of his exclusive set.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 203 pages. $25. ISBN: 0547341538

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A Voice From Old New York brings his [Auchincloss's] career to a fit conclusion. It's a fine little book that may help readers understand that his literary legacy is far more complex and durable than most of his critics acknowledge." Jonathan Yardley

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"Auchincloss delivers a decidedly limited strip tease and, chill apart, an occasional vague slippage in the patrician writing style. ... Still, enough remains to seize our interest, to entertain, and occasionally to move." Richard Eder

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"It's thin and episodic, and lacks a certain necessary friction. But it does provide a genuine taste of what makes Auchincloss so interesting a writer. ... A Voice From Old New York is a peek into a rapidly vanishing world and into a determined writer's coming of age." Dwight Garner

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"One even wonders why he wrote the book, since much of the material was covered in his previous memoir, A Writer's Capital. But it is a pleasure, nonetheless, to have one more chance to read the graceful, patrician Auchincloss prose and to spend a few more moments in his Whartonesque world." F. Cord Volkmer

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"In this memoir he observes the peccadilloes of his class in a detached way, the same way he seems to have lived his life, austerely, sexlessly, like an observant, amused bachelor uncle." Eric Hanson

San Antonio Exp-News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The book sometimes might read like a rambling collection of memories, but Auchincloss lived a fascinating, full and purposeful life." David Hendricks

New York Observer 1.5 of 5 Stars
"The very structure of A Voice From Old New York, which assumes its readers ought to be honored to follow Auchincloss wherever he might go, says as much about the world he inhabited as his words. The somnolent repetitions and arcane allusions, and the patchwork form in which they are presented, show that Auchincloss did not set out to earn his reader's interest. He felt himself entitled to it." Elizabeth Gumport

Critical Summary

In a world where privacy is increasingly passé, A Voice From Old New York may seem quaint. Auchincloss follows the traditional autobiographical form: confessions of petty crimes and sexual dysfunction and recollections of childhood education and upbringing, followed by his career as an attorney and a novelist. He relegates his wife and children to cameo appearances. As in his other works, Auchincloss is at his best as a detached observer and bemused critic of his East Coast upper-class society, though, as some critics note, a "note or two of snobbery is inevitable" in this somewhat self-indulgent memoir (Boston Globe). Despite its flaws, fans may still relish the final glimpse that Auchincloss offers us into a fading way of life, as well as wish to sample some of his other books about the manners of the Northeastern upper class.