First-time novelist Alger brings previous careers in investment and law to bear in her financial thriller about a prominent Manhattan family of financiers brought down by scandal months after the stock-market crash.
Carter Darling and his Brazilian wife Ines, a stereotypically shallow Upper East Side matron, are doyens of Manhattan society with two Spence educated daughters, pretty Lily and smart Merrill. Carter employs both his sons-in-law, preppy dullard Adrian and self-made lawyer Paul—Merrill’s husband and the novel’s more or less central character—at his hedge fund Delphic. The Darlings, including daughters and sons-in-law, live inside a tightly controlled bubble in which family is supposedly everything until Delphic’s dealings come under the scrutiny of the New York office of the SEC. But the Darlings are not the Madoffs. They are aristocratic and “waspy” (an adjective Alger uses a lot). The Madoff stand-in is Morty Reis, a nouveau riche Jew who apparently commits suicide just before the SEC exposes that his management firm, a big part of Delphic’s portfolio, has been running a massive ponzi scheme. Did anyone at Delphic know? Is someone going to have to take the fall? Is there other, more personal misconduct in danger of being exposed? Where do the fault lines of loyalty lie within this family? And how much does the family’s concierge/lawyer, another nouveau riche Jew, know? While Alger builds suspense by tracking the family’s disintegration in short scenes day by day by exact hour, from the Tuesday before Thanksgiving until the Monday after, she dissipates tension with a surfeit of financial chatter; the temperature never rises above tepid, even during sex scenes, and neither does the satiric heat. Merrill and Paul are portrayed as the innocent victim-heroes throughout, but it is hard to work up much sympathy—Paul has dropped his North Carolina family for no understandable reason except social climbing, and Merrill is a “waspy” snob and a possessive wife.
A lukewarm financial thriller.