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Picks and Pans Review: The Emperor's Children

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By Claire Messud


At the center of Messud’s engrossing new novel is the sort of man you might run into at a literary dinner party in Manhattan: charismatic, successful, late-middle-aged, used to being the center of attention. Here he’s cultural critic Murray Thwaite, the bright but tarnished lamp around which the book’s three major characters flutter. The trio are thirtysomething friends from Brown: Marina, Murray’s beautiful but adrift daughter; her friend Danielle, whose complicated feelings about the Thwaites lead her to act in ways she couldn’t have predicted; and Julius, a yearning would-be writer. While these appealing yet muddled characters are attempting to define themselves, Murray’s quirky nephew Bootie arrives in New York with a personal agenda of his own—and casts a harsh light on the Thwaites’ idea of themselves. As the characters pose and evade the question of what it means to be genuine or false, they draw you in. You’re all theirs—and Messud’s, for as long as this witty and substantial tale lasts.