Adam Haslett – Union Atlantic

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More recently had come the giant cars, the ones that looked as if they should have gun turrets mounted on their roofs, manned by the children glaring from the backseat.

For years the news had made so much of bombings in the Middle East, and of course in dear old New York now as well, and of the birds of prey we released in retaliation but they never mentioned the eyes of the wealthy young and the violence simmering numbly there (25)

What a clever, funny, terrible book Adam Haslett’s Union Atlantic (Tuskar Press 2010) is. Lots of books have been written about the power and the amorality of the money markets, but the scope of this book is wider and deeper. Against the barren certainties of Doug Fanning, billionaire wonder-boy of global finance, a highly-polished armoured shell of a human being –

You take the advantage you can get. That’s how you got what you have (201) –

is set the quixotic world-view of Charlotte Graves, who

 somehow retained the energy for a more or less permanent outrage at the failure of the shabby world to live up to its stated principles (169)

The battle between Charlotte and Doug over his desecration of the woodlands her family once owned to build a huge mansion that’s his way of proving to himself that he amounts to something, is the underpinning of a story that goes wide and deep. Satire at the expense of the mindless expenditure of the super-wealthy is easy, but you’ll rarely read anything more savagely funny than the description of Glenda Holland’s Fourth of July party. You’ll rarely read anything more satisfying than the court scene in which crazy Charlotte outwits the complacent Doug. You’ll rarely read anything more chilling than the sexual relationship between Doug and the teenager Nate, and what it  does to Nate.

The American dream of honourable democracy has been sold off like Charlotte’s family woods. The Founding Fathers’ rock-solid humanity is stored up in the public imagination like the gold bullion stored in the basement of the Federal Reserve Bank, but, as Charlotte’s brother Henry, President of the Federal Reserve Bank says, all this is

anchored to nothing but trust. Cooperation. You could even say faith  (237).

What becomes of it when trust, cooperation and faith become outmoded?

 

 

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