Union Atlantic Paperback – Feb 8 2011
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“Adam Haslett may be our F. Scott Fitzgerald. . . . A profound, strikingly intelligent story.” —The Washington Post Book World
“The first great novel of the new century that takes the new century as its subject . . . It’s big and ambitious. . . . It’s about us, now. All of us.” —Esquire
“Remarkable. . . . With gorgeous prose and the punch of a first-rate thriller.” —USA Today
“Funny and insightful. . . . The perfect book for our times. . . . Haslett has created memorable characters whose dysfunctional lives seem to embody the frenetic craziness and moral confusion of the era.” —“What We’re Reading,” National Public Radio
“It’s remarkable how successfully Union Atlantic continues the nuance of Haslett’s earlier [work]…. Swiftly and confidently, Haslett unwinds the ball of yarn that is the global financial crisis to reveal its core.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Exceedingly well written….A high-spirited, slyly astute exploration of our great bottoming out.” –The Boston Globe
“An enthralling, lucid and superbly confident work of art that grips from the first page as it puts the reader ringside at the heart of the financial crisis, revealing it finally as an emergency of the human heart and its societal urge….This is a big novel and a masterful debut by a writer whose talent is equal to his project, and whose project could not be more timely.” –Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee and The Other Hand
“Union Atlantic sets itself the daunting challenge of doing for late capitalism what Heart of Darkness did for late colonialism. It is a measure of Haslett’s extraordinary skill that he just about succeeds.” –The Financial Times
“Haslett has a deeply informed and imaginative grasp of history, and his book reads like a thriller, but it is, stealthily, much more than that: a chronicle of the collective corruption whose fallout we are, right this minute, enduring.” –O, The Oprah Magazine
“More than a financial page-turner….An ambitious literary work, filled with compelling characters, evocative prose and finely drawn social portraiture….The first serious fictional portrait of the bailout era….Decades from now, this fine novel will help readers understand the period we’ve just been through.” –The Wall Street Journal
“Haslett is a major talent….It’s been years since a novel has captured the zeitgeist of contemporary America this well; it’s been years since a new author has convinced us, with just two books, that there might be nothing he can’t do.” –Bookslut
“[Haslett] has written the first great novel of the new century that takes the new century as its subject, but not simply because it takes the new century as its subject….Rather, Haslett has written a great novel because he has emerged in Union Atlantic as a great novelist, a mystery as abiding as any of the mysteries of the Fed—indeed, a mystery restored, even as the mysteries of the Fed are revealed.” –Esquire
"Union Atlantic is a bleak, brazen, beauty of a book."—Elle
“In Union Atlantic, Haslett presents us with a sweeping, blessedly clear vision of how we wound up in the economic cesspool….And he does it all with modesty and a depth of feeling for his characters that imbues, yet never seeks to explain away, their essence.”—GQ
"Emerging here as a sort of E.M. Forster of the aughts, Haslett high-steps nimbly from great tenderness to arch social satire, and from the civic to the personal. He even manages to make monetary systems....glow like poetry.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Union Atlantic will possibly be the quintessential American novel of the first decade of the 21st century.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“[Haslett’s] gift for language, his unerring eye, his honesty and his compassion for his characters, many of whom are deeply flawed and deeply troubled, puts him in the company of the best authors writing in English today….In Haslett’s hands, there’s also humour, insight, and a shard of hope.” –The National
“[Union Atlantic] takes on the largest possible questions: the fate of the American empire and the meaning of America itself. The action moves with high Aristotelian perfection….Haslett is a skilled writer with a painfully acute feeling for the dynamics of family life in old New England families.” –The New Republic
About the Author
ADAM HASLETT's short-story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. It has been translated into fifteen languages. He lives in New York.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
These characters and several others defy easy classification. It's far too simplistic to paint Fanning as the villain of this story. Although this novel is set in 2002, Haslett sheds a great deal of light on the banking environment that led to the recent bailouts. No one sets out to defraud the public. No one thinks they're the bad guy. One small decision leads to others; events snowball and grow out of control. Fanning relies on situational ethics in both his personal and professional life, with devastating consequences. Charlotte, on the other hand brings to bear an unyielding moral code that does almost as much harm.
The story that unfolded on the pages of Union Atlantic was filled with ethical and emotional complexities. They made the novel feel like so much... more... than a mere story in a book. It had the complexity and messiness of life. Haslett's prose shines throughout, but does not overshadow, the tale he's telling. Wow, talk about a writer to watch! Surely, this will be one of the strongest debuts of the year.
One of most unassuming of these, Henry Graves, is President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. At one point, he escorts a bank employee down to the basement of the Fed, to take a look at the physical gold that apparently provides a standard of value to our financial system. It sits in stacks in cages. In the context of this novel, this gold clearly has a larger meaning. "Add it all up," Henry says, "and it's no more than eighty or ninety billion worth. The wires clear more than that in an hour. All anchored to nothing but trust." Without that trust, we have no society; not even a loaf of bread can be sold or consumed. This novel explores what happens when fraud (in war, in love, in family) destroys that trust. It is thus not an easy novel to read. Indeed, there is a disturbing cynicism at its core. Though it is set in the year after Sept. 11, 2001, the editor explains that it was completed the week that Lehman Bros. fell; it is thus a weirdly (though bleakly) wise and prescient novel.
More than one of the chief characters is self-destructive. (I will limit myself here to what is implicit and present at the beginning, so as not to spoil the plot.) As the novel opens, a high school student whose empathy extends to both the two feuding neighbors has lost his father to suicide. As other amazon reviewers, less sympathetic to this book than I, have pointed out, Doug Fanning, a banker who builds a grotesque, ostentatious mansion he leaves mostly unfurnished, seems emotionally dead, out of touch with his own motives and desires. A former high school teacher, Charlotte Graves, who lives next door and loathes the monstrosity that Fanning has created, is so animated by a longing for revenge and a nostalgia for the meaning provided by great works of western civilization, a meaning scrubbed away by the money economy, that she is driven mad.
But in spite of the novel's tragic dimensions, it is also quite funny. Charlotte's madness causes her to hallucinate that her dogs are speaking to her in the voices of Cotton Mather and Malcolm X (these hallucinations are both beautiful and hilarious). And, finally, it opens the door to glimmers of hope (remember, I said, glimmers). If you stick with this remarkable novel, you will find them by the end. The feud, for example, ends with the hint, if not of forgiveness, at least of respect between worthy enemies whose goal was not really to destroy each other. Fanning's motives are unveiled, both to the reader and to himself. For another character, love is possible.
Also, Haslett is a remarkable writer. You may need to read some paragraphs twice, but they repay the effort. Each word is chosen with absolute care.
A number of reviewers have noted that the book is basically a morality of play with Charlotte on one end standing up for what she believes in; Doug is on the other cutting corners everywhere so he can to maximize Union Atlantic's profits; and Nate, the teenager is in between, as an undeveloped character.
I would agree with this and take it all a bit further. Charlotte is the person who stands up for what she believes in. As a teacher, she offers up history, including the darker episodes in our past and is eventually forced out because of it. Everyone tells her to tone it down, just go along. Even when she fights to preserve the land her grandfather donated to the town, she is urged to give in and move on. Ultimately, she loses her mind. While other factors have also brought it on, I kind of felt it represented the futility felt by some during the period. Oppose the war? You were called unpatriotic/with us or against us. Question government? You were warned of mushroom clouds and terrorists winning. Who would not go crazy?
Doug, on the other hand, is all about profits at all costs, winning, and collecting the material goods along the way. Of course, he has his own emotional reasons for doing this and wanting the trophy house as we find out, but ultimately he lets no one stand in the way his own and his company's interests. We have definitely seen a lot of that over the past 10 years or so and look at where we are now.
Now, as for Nate, I think he's purposely undeveloped. Isn't that kind of where a lot of people stand? Not everyone is the learned teacher/environmentalist with strong convictions. Nor is everyone a cut-throat climber like Doug. Many of us will often go along because it's the easier thing to do. Protest the war? At the time, you would have been thought of as crazy by some. Get into a heated political discussion at a dinner party? Not worth it. But a lot of us wouldn't step over people at work to get to the top, either. At different times, we feel attracted to various points along the spectrum.
A few other points:
The convergence of characters does seem a bit like a movie plotline (think Crash or Amores Perros) where everyone comes together and is intertwined in some way.
Even though Doug is cut-throat in his ways, he is the product of his upbringing and his experience in war; I thought that the latter was particularly telling in these times.
The relationship, if you could call it that, between Nate and Doug seems a bit unlikely, but I guess that may be the point.
I wonder if anyone else thought that a few of the characters, particularly Charlotte, spoke like Brits. Read a few of her lines and think Brit accent.
Overall, I'd say the book moves pretty quickly and if you have some interest in the topics covered, it might be worth it.
The innocent and naive character Nate suffers a personal loss. Nate's loss is symbolic of America's loss on 9/11. In the novel, Nate is drawn to both Doug Fanning and Charlotte Graves, two characters in a battle with each other over a land dispute. While they do not directly compete for his soul, Nate sees a little to like in each of them even as he recognizes that he cannot be loyal to both at the same time. Yet, he tries to steer a middle path and, in justification for giving into his desire for Doug, Nate declares that his personal loss "permitted him this moral lapse. As if, in some grand ledger, his loss had earned him a pass or two." I want to be clear that his "moral lapse" is not same gender sex, but to seeking fulfillment in someone who values only self-promotion and personal wealth.
Yet, Doug is not evil. There is a little of Doug in all of us. We are Americans, after all! Doug, who is symbolic of America's gnawing desire for material things and superficial image, notes that 9/11 "only sped the trend" to his own accumulation of wealth. Charlotte is America's moral conscious who wants America to wake up and reevaluate its less noble values. Charlotte has never tolerated moral lapses. Her brother, Henry, as President of the New York Fed, represents government's struggle between doing what is right in the long term and doing what is expedient in order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the system. Unfortunately, expediency wins out in the novel as in real life.
It is a sad commentary that what the terrorists did not do to us on 9/11 - destroy our financial systems and the fabric of our soul - we managed to do to ourselves by nearly completely giving into the instincts represented by Doug instead of embracing a larger consciousness as expessed through Charlotte (and her dogs). I think "Union Atlantic" will succeed for those readers who are willing to see themselves in the characters and to take a sobering look at the choices we have made as a nation over the last 10 years.
Haslett had me hooked with the banker Fanning's soullessness, given his background. His unconscious sense of entitlement toward Charlotte was quite plausible, and I found Fanning a fascinating character until near the end. But his attitude toward his mother seemed a stretch, even given the callousness he displayed in the war. I found it most implausible that he didn't visit her until the end, even though he lived nearby for years. That's more heartless than I believed him to be, and in no way ambiguous, like his abhorrent actions on the warship may have been. Also, I thought the excesses displayed by Fanning's boss Holland (and boss's wife) over the top. I don't doubt that people are like that, or that they throw parties with the kind of excess shown, but I felt that Haslett didn't need to be so dramatically satiric, in order to make the points he was making.
In short, an impressively ambitious novel about important issues in our world, with great characters.