Is Patrick Keane typical of the many of the ambitious, determined, optimistic human beings who walk along Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge and into Harvard Law School? I don't know. What I do know is that going through that door makes it significantly harder to save one's soul.
In Jay McInerney's 1996 novel "The Last of the Savages," Keane is typical, at least, of working-class, ethnic, Roman Catholic strivers who find a way out of that, into the upper-middle class, and later in midlife in need of salvation. Keane is also typical of us who use one of the most unimaginative tools to accomplish that: Attending Harvard Law School. That fine institution, which prides itself on diversity, lets the Keanes and the Genovas in. I matriculated in the mid 1980s, but ever so briefly. The more imaginative like Steve Jobs start companies.
Keane did his three years at Harvard Law. In that, he's certainly a type. The Keanes have the drive and emotional strength to not veer from that road more traveled. He goes on to a white-shoe law firm in downtown Manhattan. His sense of how the world works and his gut tell him that making partner hinges on getting married - right. A few weeks after his engagement to a Judge's daughter is announced, he makes partner. Managing the pampered Judge's daughter and the Judge is more challenging than he expected but he sticks with the marriage and intends to continue doing that unless she's the one who bails.
A dumb plot gimmick is that Keane is gay. That isn't needed. The confusion, torment, and lack of being at home in himself are palpable, without throwing in that. After all, when I started out professionally a number of my male and female colleagues put together marriages of sexual protective coloring, without any extreme angst. That's what they did in those days, just like the Keanes/Genovas First Gen white-collar wannabes went to college and more. It was a must-do, end of story.
The novel wraps up w/o Keane's being willing to save his soul. His alter ego Will Savage, of the manor born, has better luck. After struggling with his background of wealth and privilege, Savage lives in the answer, not the question. His coordinates for existence are his. Keane's coordinates for existence remain drawn by others, ranging from Savage to his own family of origin. There is no Keane. There is only Keane overseeing the daily and yearly construction of Keane by external forces.
Had Keane not attended Harvard Law School would he have had fewer obstacles in his way to redemption? Without a Harvard Law JD, he might have simply graduated Yale and gone on to be an underpaid editor at a book publisher. Keane had a love of poetry. That platform lacks the money, prestige and upward mobility to support an extreme class makeover. His game would have fallen apart. Had I not left Harvard, there was no way I could have saved my own soul, never mind those of others.
Here is an e-book I recently published for those less well defended than Keane. Those who read it and thought about have reported back to me that their souls seems saved. You can access this short book free Download savingsoulsonparkavenuekstreet.pdf.