Amidon, Stephen 1959-

views updated

Amidon, Stephen 1959-

PERSONAL: Born July 6, 1959, in Chicago, IL; son of William and Bess (Polous) Amidon; married Caryl Casson, October 12, 1986; children: Clementine, Alexander, Aurora, Celeste. Education: Wake Forest University, B.A., 1981.

ADDRESSES: Home—MA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003.

CAREER: Writer.

AWARDS, HONORS: Arts Council of Great Britain bursary, 1989.


Splitting the Atom (novel), Bloomsbury (London, England), 1990.

Subdivision (stories), Bloomsbury (London, England), 1991, Ecco Press (Hopewell, NJ), 1992.

Thirst (novel), Ecco (Hopewell, NJ), 1993.

The Primitive (fiction), Ecco (Hopewell, NJ), 1995.

The New City (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2000.

Human Capital (novel), Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals, including Washington Post, New Statesman, Salon, Sunday Times (London, England), and Literary Review.

SIDELIGHTS: Stephen Amidon's novel The New City uses a 1970s setting to highlight contemporary social issues. In the 2000 publication, Amidon explores social problems which emerge and perhaps cannot be avoided in a planned utopian community. The novel's Columbia, Maryland, city was created by good friends Austin Swope and Earl Wooten as a place where residents would, in effect, be blind to prejudicial characteristics, such as their neighbor's social class and race. Swope, a white lawyer, uses his resources to realize the dream city. Wooten, a black master builder, uses his skills to construct the city. Their sons, Teddy and Joel, are, like Swope and Wooten, best friends.

Amidon begins The New City just as the problems of the inhabited but still developing Maryland city are surfacing. Despite Swope and Wooten's plans for the small suburban community, "prejudice and greed [take] hold like weeds," stated Brad Hooper in a review in Booklist. Following subsidized housing in Columbia, fighting between residents occurs. The relation between the town's creators darkens as Swope becomes paranoid that Wooten is secretly vying for his city manager job. A death occurs and is related to Teddy's reaction to Joel's white, lower-class girlfriend.

A Publishers Weekly contributor called The New City an "ambitious and effective social drama." Hooper noted: "Amidon's novel is right on target in its edgy take on suburban disquietude beneath a harmonious veneer." The "impressively imagined and controlled" work is "a parable of a nation's loss of innocence," stated Vanessa V. Friedman in an Entertainment Weekly review. According to the Publishers Weekly contributor, "the plotting is adroit if sometimes overly contrived, the narrative grip fierce." Comparing The New City to William Shakespeare's Othello, the reviewer also noted that Amidon's story falls short of a tragedy because of "a certain glibness and flatness in the writing and an airlessness that is perhaps inevitable in so tightly focused a setting." Nevertheless, the Publishers Weekly contributor was impressed with the novel and its "powerful character sketches." Also applauding Amidon's "well-developed characters," Library Journal contributor Christine Perkins praised Amidon's "modern allegory on race relations, suburban living, and social engineering." Perkins proclaimed The New City a "thought-provoking" novel.

In his novel Human Capital Amidon builds his story around hedge fund manager Quint Manning and real estate broker Drew Hagel. Set in the small Connecticut town of Totten Crossing, the novel follows Quint and Drew as the struggling Drew invests in a hedge fund run by the extremely successful Quint. When the fund fails, Drew finds himself ruined and in a confrontation with Quint. The author also weaves into the narrative the stories of Drew's teenage daughter, Shannon, and her former boyfriend, Jamie, who is Quint's son. After the two break up because of Jamie's alcoholism, Shannon starts dating a poor boy named Ian, who is undergoing drug rehabilitation. Before the novel ends, Shannon, Jamie, and Ian become involved in a hit-and-run accident. Writing in the New Statesman, Howard Baker remarked that "although the novel's framework is familiar, the turn of events is not, and the story remains fascinating right to its unexpected end." Baker continued: "Amidon's strength lies in his ability to create complex characters who demand both our sympathy and our disdain." Spectator contributor Charlotte Moore observed: "This is a novel about accountability, in a world where moral sense has been blurred and muffled by the acquisition of, desire for or loss of wealth." Moore added, "Amidon's portrait of the too rich Manning family is particularly skilful."



Booklist, June 1, 1993, Terry Farish, review of Thirst, p. 1780; November 15, 1999, Brad Hooper, review of The New City, p. 578.

Elle, January, 2000, Wendy Smith, review of The New City, p. 42.

Entertainment Weekly, January 7, 2000, Vanessa V. Friedman, review of The New City, p. 62.

Library Journal, December, 1999, Christine Perkins, review of The New City, p. 181.

New Statesman, March 20, 2000, Alan Mahar, review of The New City, p. 52; February 7, 2005, Simon Baker, review of Human Capital, p. 55.

New York Times Book Review, September 13, 1992, Mason Buck, review of Subdivision, p. 24; September 19, 1993, Lauren Picker, review of Thirst, p. 24; August 13, 1995, Karen Angel, review of The Primitive, p. 16; January 16, 2000, Ken Tucker, review of The New City, p. 23.

Pensions and Investment, January 24, 2005, Christine Williamson, review of Human Capital, p. 8.

Publishers Weekly, March 30, 1992, review of Subdivision, p. 89; April 26, 1993, review of Thirst, p. 56; June 19, 1995, review of The Primitive, p. 50; November 8, 1999, review of The New City, p. 47.

Reason, June, 2000, Tom Peyser, review of The New City, p. 62.

Spectator, February 5, 2005, Charlotte Moore, review of Human Capital, p. 43.

Times Literary Supplement, June 1, 1990, Paul Kincaid, review of Splitting the Atom, p. 585.