A friend texted me about Trust, she wanted me to read it so we could discuss it. She dropped it off and away I went. The title Trust is a good one, because the word can be used in so many ways. The story is about a tycoon and his wife in the early 20th century. There are “trusts” in the context of money making, Wall Street, sketchy financial dealings and philanthropy. The book is also dealing with the idea of whom do we trust? Which of the four narrators of the story are trustworthy? Who do we trust with our health? Can you trust your lover, your employer, anyone?
Bonds is a novel about Benjamin and Helen Rask. Helen is the main character. She is the daughter of down at heel Albany aristocrats, who flee to Europe when she is a child. Helen is a polymath, her father is her first teacher but she outgrows his knowledge. Her father is institutionalized when he suffers from mental health problems immediately before the Great War. After the war Helen and her mother return to New York. They don’t know what happened to her father during the war. By this time Benjamin Rask is a reclusive Wall Street tycoon. They meet and marry. She is a patron of the arts, he continues to make more and more money. He successfully foresees the crash of 1929 and increases his fortune doing so. At the same time, Helen suffers from mental illness, he takes her to Switzerland. She gets worse despite or because of the treatment. She dies, he is alone. After a time he is no longer considered a genius, his aura is gone.
My Life is written by Andrew Bevel. Andrew Bevel and his wife Mildred are the models for Benjamin and Helen Rask. Bevel is angry about the novel Bonds and is determined to set the record straight. Bonds misunderstands the origin of his financials skills and misrepresents Mildred, particularly the claim that she died of mental illness. My Life is in draft form, some chapters are rough outlines, and the book contains notes to provide more details. He paints Mildred as sweet and kind. There is no mental illness in her family. She studied painting, literature and music. During their marriage she became consumed with philanthropic work, funding musicians, musical education, libraries. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He took her to Switzerland where she died. Throughout his narrative he traces his own growing wealth which he attributes solely to his family background and his skill. His philosophy is Randian: “Should not our very success be convincing enough evidence of everything we have done for this country? Our prosperity is proof of our good deeds.”
A Memoir Remembered is told by Ida, the ghost writer of the unfinished My Life. She is looking back to the 1930s when she met Bevel. She is the opposite of him, she lives with her Italian immigrant socialist father in a small apartment. They live hand to mouth, she answers an ad for a secretarial job which evolves into the writing of Bevel’s biography. She feels conflicted working for a millionaire, but the money gives her the ability to help her father. She is curious about Mildred, but Bevel gives her little to work with other than his idealized portrayal. She knows there is more, she finds tidbits, but the project is cut short until she recalls it decades later.
Who do you trust? Harold Varner, author of Bonds, Andrew Bevel, Ida, or perhaps Mildred herself? No one’s portrait is complete. The writing is terrific, which combined with the story makes a great read.