Oscar Wilde discovers America : a novel /

Main Author: Edwards, Louis, 1962-
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Scribner, 2003.
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Review by Booklist Review

This fictional version of Wilde's year-long publicity tour across the American continent revolves primarily around the adventures and escapades of his young black servant and friend, William Traquair. While Wilde's own exploits are duly noted, they serve primarily as a dramatic backdrop for the intimately related experiences of a young black man in post^-Civil War America. Intelligent, handsome, and charming, Traquair chafes at the limited options available to him as an educated man of color. When his father suggests he accept a position as valet to a visiting English writer, the initially insulted Traquair eagerly agrees after he learns his would-be employer is the celebrated Oscar Wilde. William Traquair comes of age during this remarkable odyssey: he loses his virginity, falls in love, uncovers a bitter family secret, and learns how difficult it is to develop and maintain a sense of selfhood in a society restricted by racial, social, and sexual prejudice. An entertaining and thought-provoking narrative grounded in social and literary history from the acclaimed author of N (1997) and Ten Seconds (1991). Margaret Flanagan

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In spite of its title, this third novel by Edwards (after Ten Seconds) is not so much about the celebrated Irish wit as about the black valet who accompanied him on his 1882 coast-to-coast American tour. Not much is known about the actual valet, but Edwards imagines him as a privileged son of educated New York City servants. William Traquair has recently graduated from college, and his father, with the help of his employer, a generous white banker, arranges for Traquair to accompany Wilde. Traquair is already an admirer of Wilde's work, and as Wilde prefers to dispense with formalities, the two become friends. Wilde even adopts some of Traquair's puns ("travel moves me"). Purists may shudder at the stilted conversations; Edwards's many epigrams are rarely the match of Wilde's, though the book does have its moments of humor, especially when Traquair's starchiness is gently mocked by the more down-to-earth blacks he encounters. Yet while Edwards makes an intriguing attempt to imagine the trip from Traquair's perspective, the effort is uneven and often tedious, slowed by awkward prose with a false, old-timey stiffness ("I was, indeed, mildly annoyed with his remark. But I hope I did not impart that displeasure in any discernible way.... I was, after all, a mere uninvited guest into his small chamber of solitude"). There is a surprising and touching conclusion, but some readers will have lost patience before then. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Critically acclaimed for his previous novels, Ten Seconds and N: A Romantic Mystery, Edwards here offers a historical work set in 1882 after Reconstruction but before Plessy v. Ferguson. His protagonist is the 22-year-old William Traquair, who travels as valet to Oscar Wilde throughout his U.S. lecture tour. African American, Bowdoin-educated, and son of the butler to a wealthy abolitionist family, Traquair has had a relatively sheltered and privileged childhood. Already a follower of Wilde's aesthetic philosophy, he overlooks his distaste for servitude to learn at Wilde's elbow. However conscious of his position as a servant, Traquair does not feel limited socially by his position or his skin color. His experience gives him insight into his family and its history, his confusing parentage, and the twists of fate that have contributed to his destiny. Traquair's recent heritage of slavery and the conditions of being black in America are left to the reader to deduce and comprehend through revelation and the author's subtle narrative technique. This complex novel requires-and deserves-multiple readings to be understood and appreciated fully. Highly recommended for all public and academic fiction collections.-Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A young man comes of age in the company of the great Irish wit and playwright, a story told by Edwards (N, 1997, etc.) with a sophistication worthy of its subject. Few creatures are more difficult to put up with than a college boy fresh out of school-especially if he doesn't have a job. The honest and industrious Henry Traquair, who has spent most of his life as butler to New York banker Charles Gable, raised his son William with every advantage he himself never had: freedom (Henry had been born a slave in South Carolina), material prosperity, and a good education (at Bowdoin College, paid for by his banker employer). Now, in 1882, William is home with his degree but no certainty of what to do with his life. Fate settles the question when a friend of Charles Gable's asks Henry if he knows of someone who might make a good valet for a London writer traveling through the States for the next year or so. It's Wilde, of course, and sulky William snaps out of his funk and leaps at the chance to spend a year with the great man. Thus begins one of the best road tours in American history, as the mercurial and languid Wilde is guided through the thickets of the young republic by the versatile and savvy William. Many of the adventures (Wilde giving a lecture on Benvenuto Cellini in a Colorado silver mine) really took place, and they're amplified by the fictional exploits of William (who loses his virginity, falls in love, and receives a surprising revelation about his father) and of Charles Gable's son Baxter (who moves to England and conceives a grand passion for Wilde's future wife, Constance Lloyd)-as well as of Wilde himself, who proves even more quotable in person than he is on stage. Tremendous fun: a marvelous story animated with just the right savvy, melodrama, wit, and fantasy.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.