A Gentlemen's Guide to Graceful Living by Michael Dahlie
A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living by Michael Dahlie
The photograph of author Michael Dahlie, on the back of the book A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living, shows a very good-looking man – but a man considerably younger than, Arthur Camden, the hero of this novel. Yet he has done a remarkable job of putting himself so perfectly into the mind and body of a man a generation older than himself.
It is 1998, and our hero, Arthur – poor Arthur - has recently had a couple of serious losses. His wife of 32 years, Rebecca, the mother of their two adult sons, has left him – for a man who was her boyfriend when she was 17 - making Arthur feel that their life together might never have happened. He still loves her and cannot believe that he is now alone. He has also lost his business – the business his grandfather started in 1902, which he inherited from his father. It is clear to all, especially to Arthur, that he lost the business because of his own incompetence. Perhaps, he thinks, this is also why he lost his wife.
The other important part of Arthur’s life is his membership in the Hanover Street Fly Casters. This membership was also inherited from his grandfather. It was the private club of a dozen wealthy New York businessmen who purchased land and built a clubhouse in the Catskills where they could fish – members only - and the memberships have passed on to their sons and in turn their grandsons.
Arthur’s sons and his fellow Fly Casters do their best to help Arthur, his wealthy son inviting him to stay for long periods of time with his family on his Colorado ranch, and a Fly Caster friend setting him up with dates. But Arthur – poor Arthur – cannot seem to get over his loss. To make matters worse, both Arthur and Rebecca are part of the same New York City social scene and cannot help but meet. When this happens for the first time, Arthur thinks of the words he read in a book about getting over divorce “life is filled with many journeys, and while some come to an end, others are beginning” – they don’t help at all. Arthur is truly stunned at the fact that his wife has left him. “He thought the whole idea of marriage was to transcend the personal, solitary part of life, but, evidently, he was wrong about this.” he later muses.
Arthur seems to me to be a man who is not quite comfortable in his own skin. He is always wondering if he is doing the right thing, making the right decision – so that he mostly just lets things happen so that he, in fact, does not have to make a decision at all. Now he begins to think about his behaviour and to think about what he might actually like to get out of life. We follow Arthur on his year of change, and an awakening sense of self-awareness. He begins to get to know his sons in a new way. Visiting a friend who lives in France – a very funny experience for the reader but not so funny for Arthur – poor Arthur. On dates with various friends of friends, Arthur hardly knows how to behave. Arthur is a man without artifice and that is something so unusual that others hardly know how to respond to him. Arthur is also a “decent kind of man” and I must say I liked him a lot, and wished him well.