The fictive territory mapped by Louis Begley in his jewel-like volumes has fast become familiar — the emotional landscape of the detached, aging businessman-aesthete. This year’s model is the Mistler of Mistler’s Exit, wealthy owner of an advertising agency, father of a grown son he doesn’t understand, husband of a socialite he no longer respects, and the just-diagnosed victim of liver cancer. When he gets the news, Mistler decides to trade treatment for Venice, to absorb the news in private (he tells his wife he’s going on a business trip) and in five-star splendor. There is a compellingly austere, cut-glass clarity to the book, but like the Napoleonic candelabra Mistler buys for his mistress, it sparkles without warmth. B+
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