Race and class are two tales as old as the United States itself, through lines in our nation’s winding, twisted history. They are also some of American literature’s favorite obsessions, encapsulating as they do the conflicts and vagaries of a country that has spent over two centuries trying to cohere. In Stuart Nadler’s debut novel Wise Men, race and class are Hilly Wise’s twin bêtes noires, the dividing lines keeping him from his teenage love, Savannah. Nadler, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, writes with a plainspoken clarity that feels instantly timeless, unwinding a story of tragedy and tension and the weight of guilt and the salve of redemption. Wise Men demonstrates the same humanity Nadler displayed in his first short-story collection, The Book of Life, from 2011, a collection of small family dramas that sparked with grace notes of intimate observations. A saga of New England wealth and privilege and their attendant burdens, Wise Men is a delicate and incisive portrait of a man who comes to terms with his place in an ever-changing world, a man who, by novel’s end, has earned his surname.
Wise Men is out now from Reagan Arthur.