” A plot of land. That’s what Doug told his lawyer. Buy me a plot of land, hire a contractor, and build me a casino of a house. If the neighbors have five bedrooms, give me six. A four-car garage, the kitchen of a prize-winning chef, high ceilings, marble bathrooms, everything wired to the teeth. Whatever the architecture magazines say. Make the envying types envious. ” (1:19)
Full of intricate nuances, Union Atlantic is a timely novel that not only bears prescience but also resonates with the snowballing financial crisis that sweeps the country. While the book presents a clear, indicting vision of how we wound up in the economic cesspool, it explores how people are caught up in the societal urge and take up causes that are wildly at odds.
In the beginning Doug Fanning was on board a naval ship in the Persian Gulf during the height of Iran-Iraq War. He was among those responsible for a terrible military error, shooting down a plane with 290 civilians on board. He’s not fazed by this incident, although years later it lingers on the fringe of his consciousness, nor is he troubled by his subsequent quasi-legal activities at Union Atlantic, once a tightly regulated, cautiously run institution but now a financial conglomerate powerhouse as a result of brazen and aggressive manoeuvres orchestrated by Doug.
These days much of the world seemed drained of presence to him, not by his doubt of anything’s existence but because objects, even people sometimes, seemed to dissipate into their causes, their own being crowded out what had made them so. (Chapter 4:75)
If Doug Fanning has a cause, it’s not money-oriented, despite the power he has wielded and the vast money he brings in for the bank. Nor is it greed. In Fanning there exists an ego so stupendous and exhaustive that he prides in testing the length to which he can manipulate global financial market, imperiling the investments of unwitting citizens but increasing his company’s earnings. To reward himself, he builds a garish mansion in the town of Finden, MA. His palatial spread is viewed with extreme distaste and agitation from his neighbor Charlotte Graves, who claims that the house is built on preservation land that was gifted to the town by her grandfather on the understanding that it will not be developed. Holed up alone and poised on an insurgent attitude against civilization, Charlotte, however, is not so eccentric as being uncapable of creating legal struggle for Doug. She retains “the energy for a more or less permanent outrage at the failure of the shabby world to live up to its stated principles.” (12:198)
Connecting the two antagonists is Nate, a college-bound senior who seeks tutorial help from Charlotte, a retired history teacher, for his AP exam. An intrusive on impulse subjects him to Doug’s acquaintance. But the teenager, unaware of his homosexuality, has more than a burning crush for the financial titan, who is more than happy to satisfy his physical desire in exchange for any information Nate might retrieve from Charlotte’s house. Branched off from the legal dispute is Nate’s pure affection for someone who only takes advantage for his love.
The inertia of the plotlines in Union Atlantic sustains my interest throughout the book. The freighted clash between Doug and Charlotte is a microcosm of what is going on in the world. While the novel elucidates the moral and economic consequences of deregulated financial institutions, it aims to expose and indict the corrupted root and deceit of those who take advantage of the inefficiency and inadequacy of the system. What Charlotte despises is not someone like Doug, but the system at large that encourages such a personality. Winning the case would justify her case, not only against Doug and the town (which violates the trust and sells the land for monetary gain), but against her larger enemy: that general encroachment of money, waste, display, greed, and self-entitlement. Haslett has been criticized for the lack of emotional punch in his characterization–I disagree. Doug’s expedient character seems shallow at first, but gradually the signs of repressed anguish begin to accrue, partly brought out by the tenderness he might have felt for Nate. This is a great read, full of emotional states.
354 pp. 1st ed. Trade Paperback. [Read/
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Filed under: American Literature, Books, Contemporary Literature, Gay Literature, Literature Tagged: | Adam Haslett, American Literature, Contemporary Literature, Gay Literature, Literature, Union Atlantic