Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Darlings by Cristina Alger

For New Years, I decided to read more and hopefully have more content for the blog. Good timing because Penguin Books recently sent me a copy of a book in exchange for a review. 

“Necks still dripped with jewelry, the kind that spent the rest of the year locked away in a safe. Town cars and chauffeured Escalades idled out front. Of course, it was all an illusion…there wasn’t a single person in this room- not a one- who could claim they weren’t worried. They all were but they were dancing and drinking the night away as they always had…it was like the final peaceful moments at the Alamo.”

The Darlings by Cristina Alger centers around one of the wealthiest families in New York: Carter and Ines Darling, daughters Merrill and Lily and their respective husbands, Paul and Adrian. Set just after the market crash, it begins with a death that jars the already tense upper class of the finance industry. The Darlings are gradually sucked into the ensuing scandal and the crisis shines a light into the depths of each member’s relationships with their family.

There’s a considerable amount of financial jargon and most of it went over my head, so I might have missed out on some valuable tension because I didn’t understand some of the company relationships. But that’s not really the focus of the story; corporate corruption and scandal mostly serve as a backdrop to human problems like infidelity, fraught marriages, loneliness and fear of failure. Many of the characters have more money than I can imagine and there is a lot of worrying over an uncertain financial future while vacationing at a second home or throwing an opulent charity benefit. This was, at first, alienating. By the end, a few of the characters like Paul and Carter become very human; others such as Duncan, lawyer Sol and his wife Marion, provide a quick glimpse into something touching and identifiable, and others still feel so much like strangers that I can’t even remember them right now. There's  a fairly large cast of characters that continues to grow till the end of the book. True to real life, but a little disorienting for a novel.

The book boasts some glowing setting descriptions, from the view of an apartment on the Hudson River to the East Hamptons on the brink of winter. After a few pages of some awkward dialogue (an upper-class adult man repeatedly says “bro” and refers to beer as “mother’s milk”), Alger gets into her groove and for the rest of the book, character interactions become more natural, well-paced and serve to slowly build the tension. The ending- again, much like real life- didn't really close the story with a 'bang.' Part of me appreciates the realism in that decision and part of me was a little unsatisfied. 

Overall, while I wished for a little more closure, I enjoyed the immersion into the grandiose lives of big city millionaires and the attention given to complex familial connections. 

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