A gimlet-eyed writer observes the life of a New York property baron as it unravels amid personal, business, and legal woes.
Greenland (I Regret Everything: A Love Story, 2015, etc.) is a screenwriter and playwright whose fifth novel recalls Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities—except the rich guy is an implausibly good person. Jay Gladstone inherited and expanded a New York real estate empire that has allowed him, by the year 2012, to own five homes and a professional basketball team, practice philanthropy, and bask in a well-buffed public persona. His biggest flaw is pride that slides toward myopic self-righteousness and can render him dangerously uncool on hot-button issues. Life is generally good, though—and then it isn’t. His star ballplayer doesn’t like his proposed new contract. Jay’s second wife wants a baby, which goes against the prenup. Jay’s college-age daughter from marriage No. 1 is sleeping with a black female classmate, who disrupts the family Seder with a pointed comment on black slaves vs. the Jews’ biblical slavery. Jay’s cousin and partner in the family firm is embezzling. But Jay is coping well until he drives his car into the aforementioned ballplayer after catching him in bed with Mrs. Gladstone No. 2. The scene is recorded on her smartphone and soon goes public, along with Jay’s statement: "Why does everyone in this family need to have sex with black people?" Racism has been a simmering theme in the book since a white cop shot a black man early on, through the Seder, and in the college students’ debate on racial politics as they prepare a play on the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. Now racism hangs heavy on Jay and his legal predicament, which dovetails with the political ambitions of a district attorney who needs a showcase trial with a racial component to appeal to various slices of the electorate. Greenland takes a Dickensian delight in letting the plot sprawl with parallels, digressions, false leads, and twists. The ultimate twist may be the ending, which puts Jay’s possible absolution in the unlikeliest quarter.
An entertaining tale rich in schadenfreude as bad things happen to a hapless billionaire.