The Vices – Lawrence Douglas

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“It would be years before I would be prepared to accept his self-assessment [as a sick person], and even then, not fully. …he was handsome, wealthy, the youngest tenured professor at one of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, and already internationally known for his work; many people would have happily traded up to that level of sickness.”

Add art collector and ladies man to the many attributes of Oliver Vice.

Yes, our unnamed narrator, a visiting novelist at Harkness College, became fascinated with philosophy professor Oliver Vice. This would soon turn in to an obsession –not sexually– but in a way and extent that would destroy his marriage and take over a large part of his life. He would even spend many a Christmas Day with Oliver and his family, which included his obtuse brother who had a fascination with Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler, as well as his rigid but attractive Polish mother. Regarding their first Christmas gathering he comments, “Whether I’d enjoyed myself was entirely irrelevant. I’d been drawn in. That was the point.”

At age forty one, Oliver fell overboard from an ocean liner in an apparent suicide. This prompted the narrator to research Oliver’s life, and the secrets and lies of his family’s past. He takes us back to his initial meeting with Oliver Vice and through their years of friendship and female relationships. After Oliver’s death,  he flew to Europe to search for his biological father’s family with whom Oliver had no relationship with.  However, though all of this we learn that our narrator my be trying to grasp on to something of himself.

He is not the only person drawn into the life of the Vices; the reader is sucked in also. It wasn’t just my quest to understand Oliver Vice, but the anticipation of each event and how he reacts to it.

Even so, what I particularly liked was  that The Vices is full of contradictions. It’s not just in the complex characters–who are contradictions in themselves– but in the way the story is told. Though it is not a mystery, the plot  is full of intrigue. It’s not particularly funny, but laced with dark humor. Though many personal issues highlight the story–such as religion, personal identification, lies and guilt–nothing hits you in the face. It’s the  subtleties that make the story. Then again, Author Lawrence Douglas seduces us with vivid imagery and sharp tone. Let’s just say that I couldn’t put the book down.

Were all of my questions answered? Maybe not, but that’s unrealistic anyway. Life isn’t that tidy.

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