SCHMIDT STEPS BACK. By Louis Begley. Knopf. 369 pages. $25.95.
Actor Jack Nicholson was uncannily on-target as the eccentric Albert Schmidt, a recently retired lawyer and widower in the film “About Schmidt,” adapted from Louis Begley’s novel of the same title.
The movie version focused on Schmidt’s quirky, often hilarious misadventures while driving alone in his RV across the country to participate in, and pay for, his daughter’s marriage into a family that fails to meet his middle-class Midwestern standards.
In “Schmidt Steps Back,” 13 years have passed, and our hero, now 78, resides in the Hamptons in a posh home, replete with a pool, inherited from his wife’s aunt. It is where they raised their only child, Charlotte.
Schmidt is now known as “Schmidtie,” adhering to the upper-crust practice of using nicknames to fake a connection to “ordinary folks.”
Having retired from a partnership in a prestigious Manhattan law firm, Schmidtie, a widower, is handed a lucrative position managing an international philanthropic foundation founded by his longtime billionaire friend, Mike Mansour. Luckily, the job also requires frequent, fascinating travel to Eastern European countries.
Begley’s stream-of-consciousness style works well, as he reveals the inner-sensibilities of a well-educated person whose thoughts include such erudite observations as: “Having never been to Poland before, he felt it existed as a collage of Chopin played by Rubenstein.”
Although an unequivocal snob, Schmidtie, unlike Nicholson’s Schmidt, is extremely generous with his money, especially concerning Charlotte, his mentally unstable daughter, and Carrie, his former mistress of 10 years, who, 40 years his junior, marries someone her age, and with Schmidtie’s blessing.
Begley never fails to entertain, as Schmidtie falls in love with a French woman in her 60s.
As self-absorbed as Schmidtie is, at the book’s end, one is rather sad to bid him adieu.
Reviewer Dottie Ashley, a freelance writer based in Charleston