I hesitated on reading this one for a long time, because it's gotten pretty mixed reviews here on Goodreads. A lot of the negative feedback seems to center on the fact that Cristina Alger might be trying to ask her readers to sympathize with characters who are primarily one-percenters.
That's a tricky area. Fox News would have you believe that the Occupy Wall Street movement was all about people who resent the wealthy and feel like they are undeserving. They like to cast the uberwealthy as noble folks that pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and those who support tighter financial regulations, higher taxes on top earners, and social welfare as jealous peons who expect everything to be handed to them. I consider myself a liberal and I believe in a graduated income tax. I was infuriated to find out that Mitt Romney paid a much, much lower tax rate than I did in 2011 and I certainly believe that his excessive wealth meant that he had no clue what it's like for the average American. My problem in the battle of superwealthy versus supernot is the fact that, more often than not, circumstance and luck play a bigger role than anything else. People born into wealth are more likely to have opportunities not available to those born into poverty. Is that fair? Not really, but I know that's a fact of life. At the same time, that doesn't mean that people who aren't
katrillionaires aren't hard working. I guess I don't really resent the wealthy for their wealth so much as I resent when they look down on those who aren't.
So that's it for the political rant. I don't want to get into a fight about the haves and the have-nots. But you're probably not going to like this book if you have particularly strong sympathies for the Occupy movement.
To me, this book wasn't really about making wealthy people likable or justifying the crimes of people like Bernie Madoff, whose story is echoed in the plot. The Darling family patriarch, Carter, is the CEO of an investment company; one of their hedge fund managers commits suicide the day before Thanksgiving and it begins to drip out that he may have been running a Ponzi scheme. Carter's son-in-law Paul recently started working at the firm and finds himself in the middle of the scandal as he faces the decision of doing what he believes is right and protecting the family. Among the myriad characters in the fray are a legal secretary, an SEC investigator, a cub reporter and her boss, and the Darling offspring. Alger pieces together her story bit by bit, allowing each character's perspective to fill us in on a piece of the scheme.
What I think Alger does well is not so much asking you to sympathize with the 1% or assuming that they are all conniving, scheming moneygrubbers. There's a lot of gray in here, the dilemmas faced by the characters are not black and white and not everything is as it seems. Sometimes the ins and outs of the financial world got to be a little much -- a kindergartner could probably manage his money more effectively that I do -- but that's not really all that important. What is important is that this was ultimately a well-constructed story that simply compelled me to keep turning the pages.