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Moral Hazard: A Novel [Paperback]

Kate Jennings
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 26 2003
On Wall Street, reflects Cath, women are about as welcome as fleas in a sleeping bag. Funny, liberal and left-leaning, she is an unlikely candidate to be writing speeches on derivatives in a Manhattan tower, 'putting words in the mouths of plutocrats deeply suspicious of metaphors and words of more than two syllables'. She finds herself on Wall Street because she needs serious money. After ten good years, her beloved older husband Bailey is suffering from Alzheimer's. So begins Cath's journey into two nightmare worlds. By day she deals with the topsy-turvy logic and ingrown personalities at work in high finance; by night she has to watch the slow disintegration of the man she loves. In between, she must stop herself from falling apart. As the money markets hurtle towards financial meltdown, Cath faces personal disaster and a moral hazard that she cannot ignore. Kate Jennings' prose is lean yet rich in unexpected, telling detail. Tense, taut and compulsively readable, Moral Hazard is peopled by extraordinary characters and informed by a mordant, witty intelligence.

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From Amazon

Kate Jennings's first novel, Snake, was praised for combining "dry comedy" and "genuine heartbreak"; now she has used the same sweet-and-sour recipe in her second book, Moral Hazard--but with even more raw ingredients. The heroine is thirtysomething Cath, a smiling, punning, do-gooding bien pensant who has somehow ended up in the vicious purlieus of Wall Street, dealing billions with the great white sharks of high finance. This unfeasibly high-powered employ contrasts sharply with Cath's home life. She's married to a man 25 years her senior: "sweet Bailey, dearest Bailey... optimistic where I was pessimistic, enthusiastic where I was distrustful." This marriage is not perfect: as Cath mordantly observes, "marriage is awful in its nearness. Yoked together, bound, in a three-legged race with no finishing line." Nevertheless Cath and Bailey, in their May/December way, have found a kind of happiness. Then, horribly, Bailey is diagnosed with Alzheimer's....

Three chapters in we learn this terrible truth, and the rest of the book concerns Cath's desperate, affecting, sardonic, resolute ways and means of dealing with Bailey's rollercoaster ride to the inevitable--or even worse. It's not an easy journey; this is not the easiest of books. What largely rescues the whole from being a whiny or self-pitying lament is the prose: humorous, energetic, sharp, urbane, and vivid. --Sean Thomas, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This short, self-assured novel by Australian-born Jennings (Snake) brilliantly depicts the complicated life of a working woman on Wall Street during the dot-com boom. Cath, a freelance writer in her 40s, is married to Bailey, who's 25 years her senior. When he develops Alzheimer's, she takes a speech-writing job at an investment bank to pay for his expensive medical care. Wry but realistic, and realizing her position in a rigid boys' club hierarchy, she suppresses her liberal sensibility and defers to the chauvinists who dominate the firm, even cozying up to Horace, the company's most Machiavellian executive. Cath's Virgil through this hell is Mike, a cynical but gabby risk manager whose gossip and instruction illuminate the high-stakes office politics and dismal science of Wall Street. As Bailey deteriorates, in scene after heartbreaking scene, Cath finds unexpected succor "in the belly of the beast." Jennings, herself a former Wall Street speechwriter, makes it clear that the mad math of high finance and the delusions of Alzheimer's resemble one another: it's a metaphor she exploits with dramatic consequences in this piercing novel, gleaming with facets of hard-won knowledge, polished by experience and a keen intelligence. An ideal subway read for smart working men and women, it masterfully documents the culture of economic and corporate arrogance, while never losing sight of the human cost of such hubris. National advertising; 6-city author tour.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST Nov. 17 2003
By Sesho
Format:Paperback
Cath is a 40ish woman who was once a freelance writer who has been forced into becoming a speechwriter for big business in early 1990s New York. Her husband, who is 20 years older than her, has been stricken with Alzheimer's, and she is in dire need of money to cover the expenses of his care. Some of her connections get her a job with Niedecker Bereche, an investment bank. When she gets to her new job she thinks "I was in the belly of the beast:observe, listen, learn." You see, her problem is that she is a feminist liberal idealist, so she is out of her element in the cutthroat world of high finance. She soon finds that a lot of what goes on at her work are scams and schemes much like those that brought down Enron. She does manage to find an ally to stem the tide of corruption from infecting her. Mike, a coworker, is also aware of the dangers of capitalism run amok and plans to take down the company from the inside out. The problem is that after working there for a while, Cath has perhaps changed her mind about the evils she once perceived.
Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings is an excellent work. It was critical of big business behavior without sacrificing story or preaching. It also retains a human element in the scenes with Cath and her stricken husband as he gradually deteriorates into a man she no longer knows. The satire in it is also humorous. It explodes the myth that Wall Street bankers know what they are doing and reveals them as paranoid, helpless, and corrupt investors who blow with the wind of rumors. I think we have already seen in real life what happens when markets are left to regulate themselves. This book is a great short read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars MORAL HAZARD blinks yellow warning lights! Oct. 1 2002
Format:Hardcover
MORAL HAZARD
Read this book. Even by the second chapter, you'll understand you are entering a world that is mad as a hatter, only that the diagnosed alzheimer patient (the author's husband) is way more lucid than the bulls (the author's bosses) who ram Wall Street down our economic throats. Moral Hazard blinks yellow warning lights even when the words slice into neat little pats of cold butter on warm toast at breakfast. This makes the story edible in deceptively gentle prose. What seems like a peculiar combination of subjects is - dementia on Wall Street countered by a beloved husband's alzheimers' trials and indignities. Somehow the two stories fit hand in glove and come out swinging the reader into black-eyed shame for our dual neglect of an aging population, and withering pension funds ground into dust by tassle-shoed Big Toes. There's more, but then, that would be telling. Read Moral Hazard for yourself. I did. Twice.
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1.0 out of 5 stars very disappointed Aug. 11 2002
Format:Hardcover
editorial and customer reviews on this very small book are gushing so we bought it. poor style, story not very interesting,
nothing comes alive. but the author obviously knows how to pick her subjects: alzheimer and the stock-market: you can not get more topical! all in all just a college 101 essay.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Witty Woman Languishes Among Rapacious Madmen July 17 2002
Format:Hardcover
This fine novella, a mere 50,000 words or so of taut invective against the greed of aspiring Wall Street shakers, is written in the style of an autobiographical essay, a winning strategy as Jennings juxtaposes the anguish of caring for her husband, suffering from Alzheimer's-driven dementia, with the novel's even more virulent dementia, the craziness and moral grotesqueness of all the avaricious, ego-piggish colleagues the narrator, Cath, must contend with day in and day out as she works as a corporate speech writer. The narrator's voice is sharp, pungent, and never sentimental as she describes her alienation at work and her despair at witnessing her older husband, twenty-five years her senior, disintegrate at the hands of Alzheimer's Disease.
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4.0 out of 5 stars UNIQUE, MOVING AND INCISIVE June 10 2002
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Concise and clear-eyed, forthright and fearless all aptly describe the lucid prose of Australian writer Kate Jennings whose first novel, Snake, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She possesses a gift for taut imagery: "The house of illness is papered with euphemisms." Or, "...his promises exited his mind backward, like tottering geishas."
With "Moral Hazard" Ms. Jennings offers, if you will, a morality/mortality tale in which the madness of the world of high finance (appropriate considering Enron) and the delusional states of Alzheimer's disease stand cheek by jowl, emphasizing the similarities.

Cath, a freelance writer in her forties, is happily married to Bailey, a creative soul in his mid sixties. "He was always doing, always curious," she says. "He surrounded me with warmth." When he is diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer's it becomes quickly apparent that she cannot provide the care he will need on their current income.
Therefore she finds work at Niedecker on Wall Street although she is "an unlikely candidate for the job of executive speechwriter, to be putting words in the mouths of plutocrats deeply suspicious of metaphors and words of more than two syllables."
Cath's guide through the miasma of high finance and cutthroat office maneuvering is Mike, a caustic, voluble risk manager. The two became friends on the day of Nixon's funeral, which was declared a holiday on Wall Street. Mike's tutelage proves invaluable, as he advises her to stop bucking the firm lest she be broken. "Round off your sharp edges," he counsels, "Turn yourself into an anthropologist."
At home she faces the inevitability of Bailey's decline. Initially anti-psychotic medicine is prescribed.
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