Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Book review: The Darlings
I bought it during a visit to Manhattan about a year ago, and it was featured prominently in the window of a small bookstore on the Upper East Side. Given the title, the cover, and the general quality of the hardback, I figured it would be a Serious Novel of a New York Family with lots of angst and soul searching. It was more like what you would get if John Grisham wrote for the New Yorker.
I found it tremendously satisfying to be able to sit in public with this novel and have everyone think I was engaged in Serious Reading when I was really savoring a financial thriller/keen skewering of the New York elite.
"Skewering" may be a bit harsh. The author, Cristina Alger, does a really good job of bringing you into the lives of these characters with both their struggles and their flaws. And she describes the sense of the financial bottom dropping out from under them in a way that made me feel it viscerally, as they suddenly realize there is no there there.
Then again, she doesn't pull any punches about what their lives are like or how her characters perceive them. One of her protagonists, Merrill Darling, thinks, "Manhattan children were like armadillos: sharp clawed and thick-skinned, deceptively quick moving."
Or maybe Alger thinks this. After all, she grew up in the Upper East Side, went to Harvard, worked as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, then as a lawyer, first in Mergers & Aquisitions, and quickly moving into Bankruptcy.
In short, she knows whereof she writes. I actually wondered if she could continue to live in New York after this book came out. I think it took guts to put much of this out on the page, even in fictional form.
It seems appropriate to write this review on 9/11. For all that it's not elaborated upon, the memories of 9/11 lurk throughout the book and jump out at unexpected moments. That seems about right, too.
I really enjoyed this book.