This was a terrific book!
It follows 7 people who are all kind of loosely connected through less than a year in New York. Each of the characters is so interesting, and they all make decisions in a very particular way. It seems like they make decisions based on their own internal logic which they think is kind of flawless, and then they’re all coming to terms with the fact that their belief systems are flawed and their heroes aren’t who they though they were. All of their lives gradually change.
On the surface it looks like their lives get worse, but I think if you ask the characters in the book – I think Eddie, Margo, and Lucy would say theirs got better while Doyle, Kit, Justin, and Sam would say they got worse.
I was a little worried when the book started with Sam Waxworth who is a data-driven political oracle as they call him for correctly predicting all of the election results for 2008. He talks about how he makes his decisions in a very regimented way based on numbers – including finding an apartment and deciding which jobs to take – and I was afraid he was going to be the only person we were going to follow through the whole book. Because that gets old fast. I know people who are like that and it’s not as interesting as it sounds, if it sounds interesting.
We meet his wife Lucy who had a script for her life that involved her staying in Madison, WI, being married, and having a family that’s been totally upended by Sam’s decision to move to NYC to work for a magazine. And while working at that magazine, Sam profiles __ Doyle who was a famous columnist until he said some racists things at a baseball game. And Doyle thinks – no, knows he’s right. Even after being fired and having his reputation totally destroyed, he thinks all he has to do is finish writing this great book that he’s been trying to write for over a decade. And all will be forgiven.
His wife Kit is a retired hedge fund manager who is freaking out because, unbeknownst to the rest of her family, she lost everything in the market crash. And she made of all her decisions based on the path that her father set out for her to be his protege and successor at the fund.
She interacts with a man named Justin, a black multimillionaire who started at her firm as an investment banker and moved to a shadier fund where he became very rich very early and then retired and has been doing philanthropy in his old neighborhood of crown heights every since.
He’s best friends with her son Eddie who just got home from Iraq. He was discharged from the Army for an unlawful killing, but they allowed him an honorable discharge because it was at the end of his time anyway. He feels totally empty coming back to this very wealthy family, but he finds purpose when he meets a street preacher in Washington Square Park named Herman Nash who predicts the end of the world on Nov 1. He begins following Nash and he eventually moves in with him and through a series of chicanery and buffoonery, Nash takes all of his money and leaves.
Margo is his sister, and she’s taking a leave of absence from graduate school after having been involved with her professor. She sends one of his emails to the entire department, and she’s asked to leave for a while. She’s back home wishing she were a poet and not someone who studies poetry. Her and her father have a connection through their memorizing different poets throughout the ages and reciting them by heart.
Anyway, it was one of these large sprawling stories that’s also very well contained that I was really excited to read, but I also want to take my time so I could make sure I knew where everyone was and when and what was happening and what their motivations were. And I felt in the end that I quite like most of these people even though they make really bad choices. Would recommend.