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  • Written by Louis Begley
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  • Schmidt Delivered
  • Written by Louis Begley
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Written by Louis BegleyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Louis Begley

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On Sale: December 01, 2010
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-0-307-75773-9
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Recently widowed, Albert Schmidt has triumphantly rediscovered domestic bliss in the Hamptons with Carrie, the Puerto Rican waitress who is younger than his daughter. Schmidt is content with keeping his own hours and steering his own course, even as he becomes entertained--and increasingly ensnared-- by the odd billionaire Michael Mansour. Among Schmidt's other heartbreaks and delights is the scandal engulfing his detested son-in-law. Where will it all lead? Is Mansour a true friend or just a big cat playing with a WASP mouse? Can May and December remain on the same calendar as the sun sets? Through it all, one thing is clear: Schmidt has found a new life far beyond the deck chair.

With the elegance and mordant wit readers have come to expect of him, Louis Begley has created a magnificent story of how virtue may be rewarded.

Excerpt

Yes, it's Schmidtie here. Hello hello. Yes, this is Schmidtie speaking.

He had knocked the telephone off his night table and was groping under
the bed for the receiver. People shouldn't be calling a retired gent
before nine. Or was this some sort of bad news? Charlotte!

I hope this is not an inconvenient time.

The speaker's voice was agreeably deep, with a mystifying rough
intonation at the edge.

You don't remember me.

Terribly sorry, I'm not good at recognizing voices.

Look, there's no reason you should remember me, though people usually do
remember my voice. I'm Michael Mansour. That's right, in this country I
pronounce "Man-sower," not "Man-soor." Anything to make it easy for the
natives. We met yesterday, at the Blackmans' party. You know who I am?

Now Schmidt had his bearings. Of course, the billionaire investor who
backs Gil's films. Egyptian, or something, but I lodged firmly toward
the top of Forbes magazine's list of the richest tycoons in America.

Of course. I've read about you, more than once. The king of bottom
fishers.

Ha! Ha! I like that--you made a pun, right? But that's just how I make
money. I'm a friend of Gil's, he gave me your telephone number. I'd like
you and your wife to come over for lunch on Saturday. My house, at
one-thirty, unless you want to take a dip in the ocean before we start
drinking. Gil says you're his best friend. He's told me what kind of
lawyer you were. I'm sorry we never got to work together. Anyway, Gil's
friends are my friends. So you'll come? Excuse me, you're sure you
remember meeting me? By the way, I've got a pool, too, if you don't like
the ocean.

Considering Mr. Mansour's grandeur, this diffidence was touching.

Of course I remember, replied Schmidt, reaching for a high level of
amiability. Elaine introduced us. Actually, the young woman I was with
is my friend, not my wife. She's not here just now. Could I call you
after I've checked with her?

He was telling a white lie. Carrie was right there, resolutely asleep,
her head buried under the pillow. It would take more than the three
rings of the telephone and Schmidt's talking sotto voce to Mr. Mansour
to wake her when she was like that.

Your friend is gorgeous. Charming too. I figured she was your wife, and
not your daughter, because she doesn't look like you. Anyway,
congratulations! I want you to bring her, but come alone if she's busy.
I can always have you over together another time.

I'll be in touch.

Having taken in the further news that Mr. Mansour was no longer to be
found at his East Hampton residence, which he had abandoned to the more
recent of his two wives, Schmidt wrote down the unlisted number. Not to
worry, he would keep it to himself. Ah, the Crussel house on Flying
Point Road in Water Mill? Yes, he knew how to find it all right. Yes,
and find memories in that house as well, that the visit might endow with
a new meaning not untinged with new bitterness, but he saw no point in
mentioning that to Mr. Mansour so early in the morning.

The original owners of the house in question, Mr. and Mrs. Crussel, had
been important clients of Wood & King, the firm where Schmidt had been a
partner until he retired. A trusts and estates colleague, Murphy, took
care of them, just as he watched over the modest affairs of Schmidt and
his late wife, Mary, but Schmidt, who specialized in representing
insurance companies in the loans they made, was usefully situated, in a
manner of speaking, as the Crussels' neighbor who knew them socially. It
fell upon him, therefore, to be the firm's unofficial emissary charged
with maintaining and developing them as clients, through more frequent
and more assiduous attendance at their lunches and dinners than would
have otherwise been his style. Occasionally, as though leading a Great
War charge a outrance, he had gone so far in his devotion to
professional duty as to propel a giggling and squealing Olga Crussel
into the surf and hold her up, with both hands, while she bobbed in the
unthreatening breakers. These exploits established in the Crussel
household his reputation for gallantry and limitless strength as a
swimmer; they also gave the authority of revealed truth to his
occasional, off-hand assurances that his partner, Murphy, knew what he
was doing and could be relied upon.

Schmidt was pleased to recall that the house, of which Mr. Mansour was
now the owner, was one of the few subjects about which the Crussels had
not asked his opinion. A prizewinning Brazilian architect, a friend of a
niece of the Crussels, had designed it. He had come out with her for a
Fourth of July weekend and stayed in the large clapboard cottage that
then stood on the site and that had been the Crussels' beach house ever
since they came to the Hamptons. Sizing up the opportunity for new
business--the large fortune, although discreet, was hardly unknown to
connoisseurs of such matters--he made a rapid drawing of what he would,
if the property were his, put in the place of their current dowdy home:
a large, loosely flowing aquatic structure corresponding to Olga
Crussel's inner self, with reception rooms and decks for entertaining in
full view of the ocean and Mecox Bay, between which this astonishing
acreage was located. Olga took the bait. For a Swiss banker, whose
family had been, since the days of Calvin, a pillar of Geneva's
patriciate, Jean Crussel was a prodigy of speed when he really wanted to
make up his mind. Besides, he doted on his wife. The decision to go
ahead was made on the spot, without so much as a call to Murphy or
Schmidt or Olga's pet decorator. The cottage was torn down during one
terrifying week, but construction of the new house dragged on. Getting
it finished and moving in turned into the Crussels' race against
senility and death. The old couple won the first leg: before the platoon
of round-the-clock keepers and nurses had to be brought in, they did
have two years' worth of showing off, at party after party, the
Brazilian's construction, which in Schmidt's opinion--but perhaps he was
unfair, having grown to like a good deal the unmourned old
cottage--resembled nothing more than a motel crossed with an ocean liner
a drunken skipper had carelessly run aground on the beach.

Jean and Olga were childless; the collateral heirs owned perfectly
adequate summerhouses nearby and elsewhere. They put the property on the
market and waited for years, unwilling, in the way of the very rich, to
lower the asking price. That an even wealthier new man had at last put
cash into the heirs' pockets and, presumably, stood ready to pour more
millions into this raped dune was bound to be a very good thing for the
local contractors, and for tradesmen in New York, London, and Paris.
Perhaps for the economy, worldwide. Schmidt imagined that Mr. Mansour
had already excised various sly improvements Jean Crussel made as soon
as the Brazilian, busy with commissions for other masterpieces, had
turned his back: remote-control switches that made the venetian blinds
in the bedrooms go up and down and devices that adjusted slats without
human intervention in relation to the angle of the sun, aluminum ramps
and no-slip surfaces positioned strategically inside the house and on
the decks to prevent a fall that might shatter decalcified bones, and
the cabaret room with its circular dance floor on which Jean and Olga
had daily practiced the tango and the paso doble under the surveillance
of a teenage Arthur Murray instructress. He might have even put down a
new deck at the shallow end of the pool to conceal the twin pink Jacuzzi
tubs. That's where the spider-thin husband and wife, sometimes in the
company of other octogenarians, soaked naked, lifting their candid and
blissful faces to the forenoon sun. The revolution in all of this,
thought Schmidt, remained to be seen and admired.

Should he nudge Carrie and awaken her? He decided against it. Instead,
he advanced his hand cautiously under the covers, ran it over her
breast, felt for her armpit, which was moist from sleep, let it linger
there while with his nose he ruffled the rush of her black curls on the
pillow, and quietly got out of bed. It was a pity. Right now he could do
it, without the help Carrie was willing to give him even while she
groaned with impatience. Failure going to bed, a makeup session in the
morning: both the symmetry and the thought that, if he did wake her, she
might attribute the satisfactory situation to his bladder rather than to
his libido, were discouraging. He put on his pants and shirt, waited to
put on his shoes until he was on the stairs, squeezed four oranges so
that Carrie could have her glass of juice right away if she came down
before he returned, did not drink any himself because he preferred to
have it with her at breakfast, and drove to the post office and then to
the candy store, where, each morning when he was in Bridgehampton, ever
since poor Mary and he had first started coming there, he picked up the
New York Times. The remaining errand was to get croissants, an important
change in Schmidt's routine. Until Carrie decided, at the beginning of
his long convalescence, that freshly baked croissants from Sesame, where
her friend, formerly a fellow waitress at O'Henry's, had begun to work,
would boost his morale, despite their outrageous price, he had
invariably eaten for breakfast one-half of a toasted English muffin
spread thinly with bitter orange marmalade. The other half he saved for
the next day. Without question, the new regime was a huge, habit-forming
gastronomic improvement. It had also brought about frequent chance
encounters with Gil Blackman, whose own morning addiction was to scones,
and introduced Schmidt to a daily spectacle he thought was perfect
material for one of those hard-edged or, as some would say, downright
nasty movies Gil had been making.

Had Schmidt dared, he would have presented a treatment to him in
writing: It's a few minutes short of nine o'clock. The Mercedes station
wagons, Range Rovers, BMWs, and Jaguars have assembled on the gravel in
front of Sesame's locked front door. Men with two days' growth of beard
are kissing women wearing what would seem to be cotton nightshirts and
flip-flops. These women have rushed here straight from bed, you can
still smell it on them, before they brushed their teeth. Also a Toyota,
which looks out of place. The fellow in it might as well be invisible.
He doesn't kiss anybody and nobody greets him. In fact, he has parked
off to the side, but he's in the way so he gets dirty looks.
Imperceptibly, a line forms. At nine sharp the door opens. Easy does it.
God help you if it looks as though you might want to cut in. This crowd
would tear you limb from limb. They're into serious fun. Now not all the
women are in nightgowns: they've been joined by others in riding clothes
with no breasts and hair that looks as if it's been soaked in chlorine,
women in sweat clothes so wet you think they've actually been running,
and fat guys with tits and horn-rimmed bifocals in tennis whites who may
or may not make it to the tennis court. Little girls got up like
scaled-down sluts, with chipped lacquer on fingernails and toenails,
whine about bagels. Tomatoes, two of which go at what the fruit stand
one hundred yards down the road would charge for eight of the same size;
little plastic containers, five dollars a pop, of oil and vinegar with
salt and pepper settled at the bottom, just stir and pour this dressing
over the tomatoes or the lettuce and arugula that are also available in
little Baggies at one dollar per leaf; prebrowned sausages ready to eat
as soon as they're warm (assuming a pair of hands can be found to put
them into a frying pan and on the stove, otherwise don't bother, just
serve them "at room temperature"); mineral water and fruit juice in
bottles like champagne splits for consumption on the premises or in the
waiting Range Rover. Wads of hundred-dollar bills. Give me three pounds
of this, give me a quart of that. These commands are barked at the
imperturbably polite boys and girls behind the counter, as though no
mode of address other than the imperative exists. The boys and girls
write it all down very neatly. A lanky old codger with blue eyes that
have seen better days and a thin mouth diffidently picks two croissants
from the basket. He hesitates. The purchase is too paltry. Should he
just stuff them in the pocket of his cotton jacket and walk out, instead
of bothering the help about a four-dollar transaction? Nuts, he won't
shoplift, but he'll show respect. One of the bony women lets him back
into the line. He lays the croissants on the counter, asks for fresh
goat cheese from Vermont and, because he likes it and it's suitably
expensive, a wedge of English blue.

But Schmidt doesn't write his version of Ali Baba's cave or tell his
friend Gil about it. For all his bluff manner, Mr. Blackman is very
sensitive. Schmidt fears that he might be offended by Schmidt's point of
view on these morning proceedings in which they are both such regular
participants.

Back in his own kitchen, at breakfast with Carrie. Her presence is a
miracle. Worshipful Schmidt knows that she is naked under the gorgeous
ruby-red silk man's bathrobe made up for her by a shirtmaker in the
place Vendome whom Schmidt's father favored. Schmidt had her measured
for it in Paris, during the spring vacation. There is no resource of her
sallow and triumphant body yet unexplored by his eyes, lips, and hands.
Her voice, hoarse and weary but tender as a mother's when she nurses and
coos at a child, fills his memory. When the jazz station he listens to
on his car radio plays a Billie Holiday song, Carrie becomes so
absolutely present that he blushes. Prudence, above all, prudence. But
after he has kissed her on both cheeks, his hand somehow finds its way
under the silk, touching the undersides of her breasts, and then the
nipples, which harden immediately. The hand wishes to descend, toward
Carrie's flat stomach. He restrains it, already reassured. If she
remembers how it went in bed last night, she has forgiven him. Or she
has forgotten--she fell asleep long before he did.

Hey Schmidtie, a woman called. She said she is Mr. Mansour's secretary
and asked if we have a fax machine. She wants to fax directions to his
house. I said you'd call her back. Who's Mr. Mansour?

A very rich man, friend of Gil's. You saw him at their house. Bald, on
the small side, and tanned. Some sort of Egyptian Jew, I think. Or maybe
he's Moroccan.

Yeah, I saw him. Was he standing next to Gil most of the time? That guy
undressing all the girls with his eyes?

No doubt, especially you. He telephoned first thing this morning and
invited us to lunch on Saturday. I said I'd ask if you want to go. He's
divorced recently. This may be part of filling out his new social life
with a few new faces. Or maybe it isn't. He's got so much money he can
order guests from a caterer.

He thinks we're married?

He did. I explained that we aren't.

And he still wants us both? Mr. Schmidt and his Puerto Rican girlfriend?

Of course, he does. He wants dreary Mr. Schmidt only because he'll bring
his delicious friend. He thinks you're beautiful. He told me. Everybody
does. Beautiful and insanely adorable.

Don't shit me, Schmidtie. He asked for me because he thinks I'm your
wife. Hey, no that's not it. He wants me there to wait on tables!

How many variations of this exchange have they gone through? Like
"Greensleeves" played into your ear over and over when the dentist's
receptionist puts you on hold.

Carrie, he said, you shouldn't think like that. You are a gorgeous,
young American citizen. If you really have the silly idea that people
look down on you because you're living with an old guy who isn't your
husband, let's fix it. Please consent to become the beautiful, adorable,
and proper Mrs. Schmidtie Schmidt! All you need to do is say yes. My
people and I will take care of everything else.

She looked away. One afternoon, almost two years back, soon after he had
recovered from the accident, while they were out on the back porch, he
had taken her hand and whispered, Please be my wife. Everything seemed
right for it. Bryan, her part-time boyfriend, was out of the way,
cleverly dispatched to work on the house Schmidt had inherited in Palm
Beach, to restore it to its pristine condition. He had as good as put
that repulsive fellow into long-term storage! Neither he, nor Bryan's
predecessor, Mr. Wilson, would handle Carrie's body again. In the case
of Mr. Wilson, who had bounced off the windshield of Schmidt's totaled
car, Schmidt liked to think that was a dead certainty.

She had stared blankly at him, then as now, but even so he had gone on
to argue his case.

Look, it's all come together. Charlotte has her Jon Riker. They're
married. He's made an honest woman of her. He says that, not I! I've
given her money and furniture and silver out of this house. Everything
she wants--for the time being anyway! They'll drift away from me,
farther and farther. Why shouldn't you and I be married? Come on,
sometimes I even think you love me. Maybe almost as much as you loved
Mr. Wilson!

As always, when he showed the poor judgment or bad taste to mention Mr.
Wilson, or she brought him up herself, big tears appeared in the corners
of her eyes and ran down the sides of her nose. He kissed it dry.

Man, she said, what's with you? You know I love you. I've loved you
since the first time. Hey, I practically had to rape you! I want to live
with you. But I can't marry you. Jesus, you're more than forty years
older! Even your daughter's older than me. What happens when we can't do
it anymore? I'm supposed to lie in bed at night and play with myself
while you read?

I hope that won't be for quite a while, he answered. Remember how you
asked me whether people could love each other and not do it all the
time? I told you they could. They get used to showing their love in
different ways, they give each other pleasure.

Like how? Fingerfucking me? Thanks a lot, I had that with Mr. Wilson
when he couldn't get it up no matter what I tried. Hey Schmidtie, we're
doing fine. Just leave it alone.

Sure, he'd resolve to leave it alone, if only to avoid being reminded
how completely right she was and what desolation awaited him down the
road if he wasn't lucky enough to die soon. But the subject had a queer
way of forcing its way in, for instance when anything concerning money
came up. Soon after she moved in, and time and again afterward, he told
her that she didn't need to be a waitress; it would take forever to save
enough to put herself through college. Of course, he knew he was
exaggerating. More was at stake for him than the date on which she would
receive her diploma. Why not quit, he pleaded, and let me pay for your
education? What's the point of refusing my help? Her invariable reply:
You want to turn me into a gold digger. Thereupon, just as monotonously,
he'd tell her that was nonsense; they were living in the same house and
eating the same food anyway, just like a husband and wife. The least he
could do was to make it possible for her to enjoy those privileges that
his wife would be entitled to as a matter of course. She would shake her
head and say, I'm not your wife. Charlotte and Jon will say they had me
figured out all along. I'm after your money!

Inspiration came to him at the end of one of those dreary exchanges. He
would hook her by the gift of a tiny BMW convertible, the car she
thought was the coolest in the world. The sales manager delivered it in
person to the house during lunch and, as arranged, left the keys on the
seat. As soon as they had finished eating, Schmidt said, Look, there is
something in the driveway I want to show you.

At first she just stood there, staring very seriously at the little car.
Only after he repeated twice, Go on, it's yours, did she look to him for
permission, open the door on the driver's side, ease her body in
delicately, as though the chassis were going to break at the least false
move, and run her hands over the steering wheel, the glistening
dashboard, the black leather.

Why don't you take it out for a spin, he asked. We'll have coffee when
you come back.

Instead, she got out. When she had finished kissing him, standing on
tiptoe, her arms around his neck, she whispered, Oh, Schmidtie, this is
so bad, I just can't say no to this car. You come too. Let's take this
baby for a ride.

She put the top down. Somewhere on an empty stretch of Route 114,
heading from Sag Harbor to East Hampton, past the road that leads to
Cedar Point, looking for all the world like a child before the Christmas
tree at Rockefeller Center, she floored the gas pedal. The car shot
forward. Schmidt waited until the needle was back at sixty and put
forward his proposition: Wouldn't it be nice to drive this car to
Southampton College and back? You'd make me very happy, I want a college
girl in the house. That way we would go on living here. I hear the
courses in psychology are pretty good. You could major in that and get
the diploma you need to be a social worker. If that still interests you.
They have courses in acting and creative writing too. How about it?

He held his breath while she made a face. The grimace changed slowly
into a smile, and she spoke.

Hey, you'll have a live-in college girl! I guess it beats fucking a
waitress. Shit Schmidtie. You would ask me now. How can I say no to you?

A great idea, because it had worked. She liked the college, even let him
help with her papers. An invitation from Mr. Mansour was hardly the most
romantic of contexts in which to press his suit. Nevertheless, there he
was, trying once more.

Carrie, my love, he said, swallowing the last piece of his croissant.
I've just asked you again to marry me. Aren't you going to say
something?

Yeah, I am. Thanks a lot, Schmidtie, but please drop it. We're OK the
way we are. Nothing's changed. You're too old. I'm too young. We'd give
Charlotte a heart attack. Your friends would flip out.

The Blackmans adore you, ventured Schmidtie. And they're practically my
only friends.

That was true. Everybody had dropped him when Mary died, or he had
stopped seeing them.

No reply.

But what about the estimable Mr. Mansour? Shall I say yes?

It was a mistake to have told Carrie that Mansour was very rich. That
had only made her shy, not curious. Perhaps it would be less frightening
to meet this fellow on her home ground. Therefore, he added, Would you
rather invite him to dinner here? Or to lunch, on a day when you don't
have classes?

Schmidtie, what's the matter with you? You've got rocks in your head? I
don't know how to entertain. What's this guy's house like?

It's in Water Mill. Right on the beach, very modern and, in my opinion,
too big and rather silly. I knew the old couple who built it. Before
they became senile, I used to go over there quite often. Now they're
dead.

OK. We'll go. But you'll tell me how to dress.

Schmidt dialed the number. A male voice with an identifiable
Mediterranean accent informed him that he had reached Michael Mansour's
residence.

Will you please tell Mr. Mansour that Mr. Schmidt and Miss Gorchuck--he
still found it difficult to repress a giggle when, as was usually
necessary, he spelled her name--will be glad to come to lunch on
Saturday?

Somebody, perhaps Mr. Mansour's punctilious secretary, had been at work.
Instead of giggling back or showing surprise, the voice replied, I will
tell Mr. Mansour, and went off the line.

Carrie was hanging up on him too. It had taken her no time to dress, as
she wore nothing under her blue jeans and shirt and combed her hair with
her fingers. Ah, "That brave vibration each way free"! She ran down the
stairs two steps at a time, blew a noisy kiss in Schmidt's direction,
and was out the door. Film studies. She had enrolled in a special summer
program. The class she was going to was a workshop. She wouldn't be back
until midafternoon.

Each change in Schmidt's routine was like a mountain he was at first
unwilling to climb, even if the result might be an improvement, such as
greater comfort and efficiency or better value for his money. This was
especially true of separating himself from an employee or disappointing
a tradesman. Thus, he had not let go the Polish brigade of garrulous,
familiar, and obese cleaning ladies, whose arrival on Wednesday
mornings, in leisure clothes of bizarre colors surely chosen to match
the paint of their gas-guzzling cars, heralded the two-hour passage
through the house of a benevolent tornado that blew away dust but
otherwise had little to do with cleaning and had constituted, in the
period between Mary's death and the advent of Carrie, his principal
contact with
Louis Begley|Author Q&A

About Louis Begley

Louis Begley - Schmidt Delivered

Photo © Bettina Straus

Louis Begley lives in New York City. His previous novels are Wartime Lies, The Man Who Was Late, As Max Saw It, About Schimdt, Mistler’s Exit, Schmidt Delivered, and Shipwreck.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Louis Begley

George Andreou
is an editor at Alfred A. Knopf.

GA:When did it first occur to you to write a sequel to About Schmidt?

LB: I first thought that continuing Albert Schmidt's story was possible, and would be fun, when I was finishing Mistler's Exit, the novel that followed About Schmidt and preceded Schmidt Delivered. I knew the ending of Mistler's Exit; it was just a matter of getting it down on paper. So I did not feel guilty about flirting with another project.

GA: How has your hero, Albert Schmidt, evolved since the days of the first book? It was particularly amusing to observe someone so tempera-mentally at odds with the culture at large--has that gulf widened?

LB: By "culture at large" you must mean popular culture. I have never thought that Schmidt was at odds with American culture, as the word used to be understood, before people began to talk about such things as the culture of a particular big accounting firm or investment bank specializing in junk bond financings.

If you are referring to popular culture, the gap has narrowed. Carrie, his half-Puerto Rican waitress friend, who is approximately forty years younger than Schmidt, has taught him quite a lot about how the rest of the world lives. Loving and admiring her has made Schmidt far more tolerant. Yes, I do think my friend Schmidtie has matured--a word I prefer to "evolved"--like plums that you buy at a fruit stand when they are hard and leave to ripen in the sun on the ledge of your kitchen window. That, too, is the effect of love, as well as time.

GA: Do you think this book clarifies, or further complicates, the much commented-upon question of Schmidt's anti-Semitism? Were you surprised or influenced by the reception he received with the appearance of the first installment?

LB: In About Schmidt, I presented a portrait of a man of Schmidt's age and milieu at the time the action of that novel takes place, which is the beginning of the 1990s, with a great many flashbacks to the preceding decades. It would not have been unusual for such a man, the product of a New York Anglo-German middle-class family with some plumage--the parents lived in a house on Grove Street, the father was the senior partner in an admiralty law firm with a Greek ship owner clientele and some money--and of an education in a Jesuit high-school and Harvard College and Law School, to have the sort of mild anti-Semitic feelings I have ascribed to Schmidtie. Bear in mind that his is not an active sort of anti-Semitism. He does not practice it in his law firm; on the contrary, I have him be particularly decent to Jewish associates. He does not trumpet his feelings, and he is not proud of them. He knows that they get him in trouble with his wife, Mary. But, they are part of the prism through which he looks at the world. Please bear in mind also that my portrait is not of the sort you hang on the wall of the bar association library: it does not flatter. Instead, here and there it caricatures the subject's traits. I thought that this particular trait was worth mentioning, for the sake of realism, for the sake of seeing Schmidt's anti-Semitism dissolve as he becomes deeply involved with Carrie (who is the object of similar prejudice), and quite simply for the sake of poking fun at people I have known.

I duly noted, when About Schmidt first appeared, that many reviewers seemed to concentrate their attention on my protagonist's anti-Semitism-- although anti-Semitism is not, in my opinion, the most interesting aspect of his personality--but I am not sure whether I was surprised.

In order to be surprised, I think I would have had to think in advance to what the reviews of my book might be. But I didn't and I never have. When reviews do come out, with exceptions, for instance when I know the reviewer or have special admiration for the reviewer's work, I only scan them.

I should add that, in my opinion, an author who thinks how his book will be treated by reviewers while he is writing, and, worse yet, tries to "correct" his work to anticipate criticism, is in bad trouble. I think I am responsible to only one critic, and that is myself.

GA: Did you ever consider letting Schmidtie live out the rest of his days with Carrie? (He wouldn't be the first man his age to accomplish such a feat!) Or did you regard it as inevitable or meaningful that he "set her free," and if so, why?

LB: Of course, I could have done just that. But I didn't really consider such a solution because both Schmidt and Carrie are too lucid to have accepted it. Carrie recognizes the powerful sexual content of her relationship with Schmidtie and refuses to have a future in which caresses are not followed by intercourse. Of course, couples can have a happy and fulfilled relationship after the man's ability to perform has waned, but these are couples in which the age difference is not so great. Couples united by interests more profound and more nourishing than those that Carrie and Schmidtie seem to share. Schmidtie certainly knows that.

Yes, I think that Schmidt's generosity and elegance when he lets her go with Jason are very important. They let the reader see his intrinsic decency.

GA: Schmidt seems to be your only protagonist whose story does not involve some fundamental deception. Your other heroes seem either to be living a lie, passing for someone they are not (I think of Maciek in Wartime Lies, Ben in The Man Who Was Late, even, to a degree, Max in As Max Saw It), or otherwise concealing a more discrete but terrible truth (as with Mistler in Mistler's Exit). Does Schmidt's authenticity, so to speak, set him apart in your mind? In what ways, if any, does this make it a different type of story to tell?

LB:You are right, and you have asked a very difficult question. Schmidt is different from my other protagonists. I would say that he is more ordinary. I know a number of men like him. His story is not tragic--except in the way all lives are tragic. Most of us lose to illness people whom we have loved; we all age and must face the decline of our powers and our own illness and death; we make bad decisions the consequences of which cannot be undone; and we have heartbreak relations with our parents and our children even if, on most levels, they go well.

I would say that is where the difference lies between telling the story of Schmidt and that of my other protagonists. Schmidt requires a lighter tone, suitable for comedy. In the end, the tone dictates the choice of incidents to be related.

GA:You have come to be identified by some as a chronicler of the rich and powerful. Even among this elite, billionaires, a fixture of the nineties and of the so-called new economy, seem a breed apart. How typical is the Egyptian tycoon Michael Mansour? Are the rich different by degrees, or are the super-rich truly an "exclusive spiritual brotherhood," as you say? Do they have a code of their own?

LB: Ah, the anointed of Mammon! I do think the super-rich are a class apart, and I think I have done a pretty good job lampooning them. What is their essential defining characteristic? Perhaps there are two: certainly, their prodigious sense of personal entitlement--the right not only to the pursuit of happiness but also to guaranteed instant gratification; and a belief in their own well-deserved omnipotence. Since, on a whim, they can summon jets and helicopters and buy houses and works of art, why can't they also buy people? They do--with money. If that is so, why shouldn't they be able to direct those people's lives, for their own good as the billionaire patron perceives it?

As I say in one of my books, Vespasian was wrong: money does smell. Its aroma acts as an aphrodisiac. In sufficient concentration, sniffed by your fellow billionaires, it confers on you admission to the "exclusive spiritual brotherhood" and its many domains on private islands and mountain tops, in deserts and historic palaces.

GA: One inevitably hears your writing described as "elegant." Does that always describe your goal in crafting prose, or do you sometimes find yourself writing against the grain of such expectations?

LB: I never write against the expectations of others or in order to meet them. I simply try to do my best. It is true that I correct and rewrite compulsively, sometimes until I am quite discouraged. I try to get to the point at which I can read the text to myself word for word without wincing.

GA:You call this book Schmidt Delivered, but though it begins with Schmidt living in bliss, he is aware almost from the start that his heaven with Carrie can't last, and indeed it ends before the book does. In what sense should we see Schmidt as being "delivered" in these pages? LB: I think that "delivered" as applied to Schmidt in this book has at least three meanings. Wouldn't I be wrong if I imposed any one of them on the reader? Shouldn't the reader make his or her own choice? And isn't it possible that more than one of them or perhaps all three are valid?

GA:At the end, Schmidtie seems literally on the threshold of a further adventure. Do you have a plan for another installment of his story?

LB:Yes, to be written after my friend Schmidt and I have lived a few more years.

GA:As a late-blooming writer you have developed with astonishing speed into a literary veteran, now with this sixth acclaimed book to your name. What has been your most interesting discovery about the writing process since your first novel? Has your way of going about it changed at all?

LB: I hadn't realized how hard it is to write. I can't imagine that breaking stones to build pyramids in Egypt together with my ancestors was harder.

No, my way of going about writing a novel hasn't changed. I put together in my mind the essentials of the story and try to find the voice in which it can be told. Once I have found it, I get going.

Praise

Praise

"A COMEDY OF MANNERS SO DRY IT CRACKLES."
--The New Yorker

"A LITERARY TRIUMPH . . . Begley has done the most amazing thing. . . . He's given us a character who is heroic, villainous, intelligent . . . You want to punch him or hug him until he cries--or both. He's human, masterfully drawn. . . . I loved this book."
--CAROLYN SEE
The Washington Post Book World
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Why won't Carrie marry Schmidt? Do you believe she loves him?

2. In the first chapter, Schmidt considers the scene at Sesame, the local grocery store. What does his vision reveal about his neighbors, and about him?

3. What do you make of Schmidt's anxieties preceding Charlotte's arrival? What worries him the most? Why isn't he more pleased that she is turning to him in her difficulties?

4. How do Charlotte and Carrie compare in Schmidt's mind? What is revealed about these two women as individuals in the way they treat each other?

5. What do you make of the way Schmidt is treated by his former law partner?

6. What does Schmidt remember about life with his parents? How does it color his relations with Charlotte?

7. What do you think of the arrangement Schmidt proposes for investing in Charlotte's business venture? Is Charlotte justified to be upset? Is one or the other to blame for letting money come between them? Compare Schmidt's reaction later to Carrie and Jason's business proposal. Is there a double standard at work? If so, why?

8. What kind of man is the billionaire Michael Mansour? Why is he so eager to be Schmidt's friend? What do they have in common? What does each value about the other? Why do you suppose Schmidt takes Mansour into his confidence?

9. Is Carrie guilty of bad behavior when she visits Mansour in New York City? How do you judge her relations with men other than Schmidt?

10. Why does Schmidt draft his letter of bequest? Do you think he is treating Charlotte fairly?

11. Schmidt resists following Mansour's advice about how to handle the conflict with Charlotte. Do you think Mansour's tactics make sense when applied to family relations?

12. How do you understand Renata's motivations in her lunch with Schmidt? What tactics does she employ and how effective are they? Is there a winner in this duel?

13. "Generosity begins and ends with gratifying the giver," the novel tells us. Do you agree? Why does Mansour offer Schmidt the job as head of the Mansour Life Institute? Why does Schmidt hesitate? What does his initial reaction reveal about his view of human nature?

14. For what reasons did Schmidt as an undergraduate try to cheat the shop girl in Cambridge? Why does he now remember that story, and the one about Laverna Daly, whom he recruited and bedded as a young partner? How do these recollections inform his view of his son-in-law's behavior?

15. Do you think Mansour has encouraged Carrie and Jason's relationship? If so, how do you explain his motivations?

16. How does Schmidt react to Charlotte's reconciliation with Jon? How does he react to Jason and Carrie's coming together? What can we learn by comparing his reactions to these two developments? Where do they leave Schmidt?

17. In the last few chapters, what change occurs in the way Schmidt views Carrie? And what corresponding change do you detect in his view of himself? How would you describe the transformation his life undergoes?

18. What was your reaction to Schmidt's final meeting with Charlotte in the novel? How much has been resolved between them? In what ways have this father and daughter each found substitutes for the other?

19. In the conversation with Louis Begley preceding these questions, the author suggests the title may be understood in at least three ways and leaves it to the reader to decide. In what sense do you understand Schmidt to be delivered?

20. How do you imagine the life ahead of Schmidt?


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