In Dahlberg’s (Uptown and Down, 2005) novel, a successful Wall Street trader humiliatingly loses her job and is forced to reconsider her life.
At 35, Mia Lewis is the head of equities at Atlas Capital and the only African-American female trader in a crew of 18. She has an enviable career, and after her firm safely lands on the other side of the 2008 financial crisis, her future looks bright. However, she’s at loggerheads with a new underling, Tripp Armsden, a cocksure jerk who buys a huge position in an unfamiliar company, Touchnology Systems—a recklessly risky bet made without Mia’s approval. She orders Tripp to unload it when its stock price dangerously dips, but he defies her; meanwhile, her boss, Atlas founder Peter Branco, supports Tripp for reasons that she doesn’t grasp. The antagonism between Mia and Tripp—which Dahlberg depicts with nuance—finally erupts into heated conflict when Peter inexplicably decides to promote Tripp to head of equities, making him Mia’s boss. Mia refuses to accept this and presents Peter with an ultimatum—either Tripp goes, or she does. To her anguished surprise, he chooses the latter option and fires her. To add insult to injury, her incensed reaction makes the financial news. Professionally ruined, she realizes that she’s mismanaged her personal finances so egregiously that she’ll soon deplete her meager savings. She sublets her apartment and goes to live rent-free in a friend’s cottage in upstate New York. There, she meets and falls in love with handsome wine-shop owner Oliver Bishop, but his unresolved relationship with his ex-wife complicates their potential future. Meanwhile, Mia isn’t yet done with the world of finance: She aims to sue Atlas for wrongful termination, and in the process, she uncovers troubling information about her ouster.
Throughout this novel, Dahlberg intelligently captures the precarious position of a black woman in the white, testosterone-fueled world of New York high finance. She also limns with great subtlety the potentially destructive charms of unchecked careerism: Mia is shown to be so focused on professional advancement and the trappings of success that she almost completely neglects the details of her personal life—including her own finances. With notable skill, Dahlberg shows how the pursuit of elite accomplishment can trap a person in a gilded cage. However, the plot’s pace is often plodding; the author dawdles far too long on incidental details and inessential subplots, which can sometimes make for a lethargic read. Nevertheless, Dahlberg seamlessly combines two very different types of books—a romance novel and a financial thriller—and imbues the result with suspense and emotional depth. What holds the two parts together as a coherent whole is Mia’s process of self-discovery; even as she fights to restore her name and reputation, she reflects deeply on the circumstances of her life. One gets the feeling early on that even if Mia returns to Wall Street, she won’t be her former self, and this aspect gives the story additional dimension.
An overlong but often engrossing novel.