The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit II
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The novel focuses on the lives (most) of the protagonists from the first novel as they approach middle age. Unlike the The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, II was written in the first person of Tom Rath who narrates the story of his life. The tone of the novel and the behavior of the characters are dissimilar to the first novel, and some of the first novel's main characters - including Judge Bernstein and the family of Tom's boss, Ralph Hopkins - do not appear in the sequel. An addition to the story is Rath's son from his romance during World War II in Italy. He visits his father at the Rath home in Southport, Connecticut only to venture out on his own, eventually enlisting in the United States Army with a tour in Vietnam. He is killed there, closing the story of Rath's infidelity during his service.
Wilson's oft-used narrative, of a middle aged man in a relationship with a younger woman, forms the basis of the book. Rath meets the younger woman while on assignment to Washington, DC to attend a conference on mental health. Rath's boss, Mr. Hopkins remains interested in the issue and sends Rath to meet with high-level White House aides. With the assassination of the conferences main proponent (President Kennedy) Rath begins a serious affair with the young women assigned to assist him at the conference.
Rath returns home to Connecticut and soon realizes he has fallen in love with the younger woman and that his marriage of over 20 years is beyond repair. He decides to finally leave his wife. Doing so allows him more time with the younger women who Rath eventually marries and moves to start a new life with her in New York City.
Using Rath as the narrator gives Wilson the opportunity to delineate the trajectory of time. The book begins in late 1963, around eight years after the events depicted in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. While doing so Wilson shows Rath's feelings as his marriage breaks up, his estrangement from his three grown children, the end of his life in suburban Fairfield County, Connecticut, the happiness and stress of a serious relationship with a younger woman and the return and, later, death of his Italian son. That Rath ultimately overcomes those critical events and ends up a happy man is the main theme of this book.
The novel was not a commercial success.
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