The Vices

The Vices, by Lawrence Douglas

This book is the story of Oliver Vice, a philosophy prodigy and professor at a prestigious eastern college. As the book starts we encounter Oliver on the stormy deck of the QE2 during an Atlantic crossing. Oliver then disappears, apparently gone overboard. The unnamed narrator spends the rest of the book trying to fill in Oliver’s back story and make sense of this seemingly senseless act. Oliver’s problem is that, like Truman Capote, he writes a masterpiece early in his career and spends the rest of it trying to duplicate his early success. Over the course of the book we learn of Oliver’s checkered past, his many girlfriends and paramours, his trouble with true intimacy, even with himself. Oliver’s family, including his twin brother Bartholemew, and Hungarian mother Francizka, are a constant source of weird entertainment.  The narrator finds himself drawn into a battle over the family’s money and art.  Because of his obsession the narrator’s own family life slowly disintegrates. I did not find this to be a particularly funny book although there is a hilarious scene at an S&M Club in London.  There are some serious philosophical themes  that deal with the nature of friendship and self knowledge as well as are some subplots dealing with Nazi death camps and forged artwork. It is very well written.


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