Stuart Nadler’s WISE MEN combines all the natural elements and structure of a good, tense read. It starts innocently enough in 1952 as the lives of Hilly and his family takes a turn for the better. Hilly’s father, Arthur Wise, who has yet to achieve much success as an attorney (read: ambulance chaser), wins a huge class-action lawsuit against Boston Airways. When Arthur Wise becomes the leading expert on airline lawsuits, the family fortunes improve and they become extremely wealthy; Hilly’s father, famous. Seeking complete privacy, Wise buys a modest home on the beachfront of Cape Cod, where Hilly meets Savannah, the black niece of the house’s inherited caretaker, Lem Dawson.
This is the point where the story becomes tense and murky. Hilly is awkward, doesn’t have many friends and is having difficulty adjusting to all the new and vulgar things his parents insist on buying – frankly he misses their old life and home, and the way they used to relate to each other. The few people he meets are deemed socially inappropriate by society and by his father, whom he fears. Hilly is often torn between the loyalty he feels to Arthur over his developing relationship with Lem, and his deepening feelings for Savannah. Nadler knows just how to put the screws to readers as they are fully aware that what’s building between these characters can only end tragically, which it does.
The rest of WISE MEN deals with how Hilly copes with his part in the tragedy that unfolds, his search for Savannah, and how his need to make amends shapes the course of his life and all his relationships. WISE MEN is wonderfully written – full of period detail, engaging dialogue and turns of phrase – and Nadler beautifully portrays issues attached to newly acquired wealth and power, racial pride and dignity, racial tensions, doomed romances, and the heaviness that follows in disappointing a loved one. Clear your schedule, you’ll hardly want to put it down. Highly Recommended.