Books: Literary Life

A novel examines the birth of an author's voice

This acute, graceful novel begins as a dreamlike memory of a vanished world. Its setting is a New England prep school in 1960, a ceremonious, high-minded and improbably literary place where the boys compete as writers rather than as athletes and the ultimate prize is a private audience with a visiting author like Robert Frost, Ayn Rand or Ernest Hemingway (whose public personas are here deliciously sent up). All of which seems too good to be true.

Sure enough, Old School (Knopf; 195 pages) soon begins revealing the painful realities beneath its chivalric trappings. The nameless narrator, an outsider desperate to...

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