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Benton Evening News - Benton, IL
  • Book Notes: 'The Darlings,' by Cristina Alger

  • Cristina Alger’s debut novel, “The Darlings,” should make you glad you’re not a rich Wall Street financier running an impressively large hedge fund. And if you are among that 1 percent, “The Darlings” will probably inflate your sense of self because you simply cannot be as unscrupulous, as boring or as superficial as the Darlings.

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  • “The Darlings,” by Cristina Alger. Viking/Pamela Dorman Books. February 2012. $26.95.
    Cristina Alger’s debut novel, “The Darlings,” should make you glad you’re not a rich Wall Street financier running an impressively large hedge fund. And if you are among that 1 percent, “The Darlings” will probably inflate your sense of self because you simply cannot be as unscrupulous, as boring or as superficial as the Darlings.
    And you get to eat more. In the Darlings’ circles, feeding yields flesh. Their aesthetic is bone layered by a thin veil of luminous skin. Sadly, once a wife’s skin looses its youthful radiance, a reordering of roles occurs and she finds herself little more than paid staff. Ines, the beautiful but middle-age patriarch’s wife, makes this cynical observation after her husband, Carter, learns that his most successful trader was running an enormous Ponzi scheme.
    It is fall, 2008. Wall Street is in chaos. The Dow is at 8,400 and a number of large firms have already self-destructed. The SEC and the New York Attorney General’s office are positioning aggressively to place blame. Carter Darling’s business, Delphic, has survived the first wave of failures but two days before Thanksgiving his key outside manager Morty Reis appears to have jumped off the Tappan Zee Bridge leaving a failed Ponzi scheme in his wake. He managed in excess of $14 billion.
    There is a lot of set up in “The Darlings” before we get to the really good stuff. We must see the Darlings chit chat in their opulent homes, strategize on the tennis courts, belittle their secretaries at work, drive their help to exhaustion, and clutch, white knuckled, the steering wheels of their elegant cars as they drive in stiff silence to their beach house cleverly named “Beech House” for the beeches on the property. We see them connive at meetings with lawyers and flash impossibly white teeth and at a fall fundraiser Ines organizes and hosts in the throes of the 2008 financial meltdown.
    The story takes place Thanksgiving week. By the time the turkey carcass is ready for soup, the Darlings are an oxymoron.
    Four-fifths of the way into the book we realize that the men in the power ties and handmade shoes may not be as infallible as they (and we) suspected. In this book — unlike reality (thus far) — good does seem to edge out evil. This story is told from multiple points of view. This technique is handled well. We know from the outset that Merrill, Carter’s smart lawyer daughter, and her lawyer husband, Paul, are the characters we are most interested in seeing survive the debacle somewhere other than in a jail cell.
    Family dynamics, more than the deal making that goes on at Wall Street, propels this plot. Loyalty and scruples drive strategic maneuvers. We hear almost nothing about the scores of people swindled. The betrayals Alger’s interested are inter-familial.
    Page 2 of 2 - Author Cristina Alger attended Harvard College and NY University Law School. She worked as an analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., and as an attorney at a large NY firm.
    Had she set this novel in Carter’s jail cell, it would have been more enlightening. As it is, it’s about a hard-working privileged family that loses its appetite on Thanksgiving for good reason. They are already so thin that the crisis-invoked weight loss looks really bad on them.
    Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at rae.francoeur@verizon.net. Or read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.
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