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HUMAN CAPITAL by Stephen Amidon Kirkus Star


by Stephen Amidon

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-374-17350-8
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Working in the towering tradition of Dreiser, Amidon (The New City, 2000, etc.) insightfully examines financial maneuvers that lead to personal catastrophe for three families in a Connecticut suburb.

Drew Hagel, whose real estate firm has been floundering ever since his first wife left him a decade ago, has invested money he doesn’t really have in the hedge fund of Quint Manning, a cool ultra-rationalist who gets fabulous returns betting on the volatility of global markets. Without those returns, Drew can’t afford to send daughter Shannon to college or hang onto the house he inhabits with his very pregnant second wife. Quint has his own problems: son Jamie, buffeted by dad’s exacting expectations, has been drinking so heavily that Shannon recently broke off their relationship; wife Carrie, the novel’s boozy moral conscience, is disgusted by their privileged life and her role in it. Shannon gets a glimpse of how this world looks from the underside through her passionate love affair with Ian Warfield, on probation for a drug rap he took for his uncle and guardian David, a limousine driver who dreams of using money left to Ian by his dead mother to buy a bar in North Carolina. When dead-drunk Jamie asks Shannon to drive him home from a party and Ian accidentally hits a bicyclist with Jamie’s Jeep, disaster unfolds for all these flawed, fallible people whose basic decency is trumped by their individual demons and their flailing attempts to find a foothold in a society in which “the lesson on offer was that you’d better win.” Vulnerable, deeply troubled Ian suffers the most hideous consequences; the story’s scathing, though never overstated, conclusion is that rich folks will generally get off the hook. But no one is left unharmed, and Drew’s shameful actions, prompted by a squirmingly plausible blend of self-interest and a pathetic desire to be decisive, result in the bitter alienation of his wife and daughter.

Richly complex and genuinely tragic, painfully cognizant of the lethal interaction among human weakness, skewed societal values, and the random blows of fate.