Review: The Darlings, by Cristina Alger, plus the giveaway winner!

The Darlings
by Cristina Alger
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
February 20, 2012
$26.95 (hc) /$12.99 (epub)
New this month from Viking, Cristina Alger's debut novel The Darlings has been marketed as one of the first novels about the financial crisis of Fall 2008. The Darlings are among the wealthier families in New York - a penthouse in the city, a home in East Long Island - and patriarch Carter is head of an affluent hedge fund that, as it turns out, has been operating with peak performance over the last two decades thanks to a Ponzi scheme run by a family friend. And when that friend takes a dive into the Hudson right before Thanksgiving, Carter and his family are tossed into whirlwind crisis that can only end in tears and betrayal.

Ms. Alger is a lawyer and former analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., someone with a keen and definitive knowledge of the financial world. That knowledge lends itself well to the plot, but less so to the characters. Carter's daughter Merrill and her husband Paul are arguably the main characters and are among the most sympathetic of those involved, but (as with any very rich, very influential family) the Darlings touch many lives, and all of them (it seems) are in this book.

Carter's lawyer Sol explains that, when Carter is indicted, the media will make people hate him by showing photos of their homes, their daughters on horses, etc. They've lived privileged lives and, with the fallout from the discovery of the fraud, they will appear more selfish than they truly are. Alger's novel does the same disservice to the characters - there's a little too much backstory in some places (gratuitous explanations of rich people who came from nothing and now have everything), and some of the minor characters come across as inconsistent and duplicitous when they're actually not, but at under 350 pages the time frame of the novel (one very quick week) is decidedly well-managed.

And though, as I say, there may be too many characters (I think the other Darling daughter and her husband Adrian could have not existed, along with the nonsense about Carter's affair with another woman) I will say that Press editor Duncan and his assistant Marina are probably the most interesting of the minor characters - they are definitely the silver lining on this great big cloud of a novel.


This was a week later than anticipated...sorry about that. 

Thanks to the folks at Viking we had a giveaway for a new copy of this novel. I'm happy to announce that the winner is:

Mary Ann L.

Congratulations! Your copy should be on it's way to you shortly.


Top Ten Books I'd Quickly Save If My House Was Under Zombie Attack

As always, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish...
So the actual category this week is Top Ten Books I'd Save Quickly if my House Were to be Abducted by Aliens (or any other disaster struck)... well... as I just finished catching up on this week's Walking Dead, I'm going the zombie apocalypse route.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Two reasons - 1) It's the special edition with Colin Firth & Jennifer Ehle on the cover. Oh yeah, I talked to Jennifer Ehle on the phone the other day. I did. I really did. And I got a little flustered. Girl crush, you know. Andddd 2) If the world is going to be zombified, I'm brining Colin Firth with me. 

Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac
It's the cool Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition and, while it didn't change my life quite like On the Road did, I'd wanna have some crazy circular writing on me for meditative purposes and this is slightly less crazy than the latter. 

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
First of all, it's a big-ass book. Like a phone book, it is. Doubles as a pillow. And then maybe I can gain some bad-assery via osmosis. 

Tristessa, by Jack Kerouac
I JUST bought this. I'm not gonna leave it behind in the hopes that, when the zombie apocalypse finally ends (IF it ends) I'm just gonna find another copy! I mean c'mon!

The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly
It's about beating your fears. And zombies can be pretty freakin fearsome.

Children of Paranoia, by Trevor Shane
Ummmm bad-assery instruction manual (plus some light emotional reading).

The Kingdom Keepers, by Ridley Pearson
These kids get outta all sorts of binds. If they can escape the creepy dolls that live in It's a Small World, they can teach me how to escape zombies.

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke
I could never leave this behind.

Reckless and Other Plays, by Craig Lucas/  What I Meant Was: New Plays and Selected One-Acts, by Craig Lucas
Should it be up to me to repopulate the world and start over Medieval-style and stage morality plays, I'mma skip the morality part and stage some Craig Lucas.

Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer
It's not a book, it's a weapon. I can either read people to death or knock off heads with it. 


Monday Mailbox

This month's Monday Mailbox is hosted by Metroreader.

So I gave in last week and walked into the book store at Grand Central Station when I was book-hungry. You know how they say you're not supposed to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach (presumably because you'll buy all of their frozen pizzas and gelato. what?) The problem with books is I'm usually book-hungry. Which means that if I see something I want, I have to have it. Even if I'm in the bookstore where everything is absurdly expensive. 

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John Le Carré

I really want to see the movie, but I also really wanted to read the book first (and it's been recommended that I do so), so I...had to buy it. I mean Hello? And look at that cover! It's cool! 

Tristessa, by Jack Kerouac

I have so many books I have to read that I already own. Like...stuff coming out this month, stuff coming out next month, stuff that came out last year, stuff that I should have reviewed a while ago...and so I was feeling kind of guilty looking for new books...I almost walked away from the shelf with all the Kerouac on it. But then I saw the bright pink on the spine...and just for a second I thought - huh...something shelved incorrectly. I mean...I don't own every Kerouac novel, but I kind of know them all by sight. So I did a double-take. Sure enough, it was not shelved incorrectly, it's actually Kerouac's 96-page short novel Tristessa that, in the last five years of actively reading Kerouac, I have never seen on a shelf in Borders or B&N or any other book store. Sure, I could have ordered it online, but it's not the same. Now it was staring at me...and I couldn't say no to it. Thanks, by the way, to Penguin art director Paul Buckley for the bright pink. 

Review: The Old Romantic, by Louise Dean

Definitely dry and somewhat maudlin, Louise Dean's The Old Romantic is the tale of an elderly man's aspirations to reunite the bits and pieces of his family before he dies, and also a kind of study of the way in which his estranged eldest son morphs into the bitterly funny father.

There's a bit of dialect to wade through, and there are British idioms that can sometimes make it a little unintelligible (for Americans), but the language is realistic and well-paced, spoken by brilliantly rendered characters. Nick, whose perspective on this divided family is the first we encounter, has perhaps the largest evolution over the course of the novel, but also has the shortest arc. Once he reunites with his father (albeit briefly in the novel's early days) it's as if a switch has been flicked and he begins to unconsciously mimic his father whom he supposedly abhors.

His father Ken has a broader arc, a subtler curve and a more appreciated outcome. His romantic feelings seem to swing wildly and even with a hint of something bigger, maybe a hint of Alzheimers, but in the next moment he's clear as a bell. His wife June is perhaps the one throwaway character who, once she's off the scene, you don't regret it. Especially once ex-wife (and mother of his children) Pearl comes back into their lives. And the side-story of Ken's feelings for Audrey Bury (a caretaker, of all things for someone called Bury to do) is necessary for the forwarding of the plot (Ken's considering of his mortality, his preoccupation with death, getting his grandson into trouble for looking up poisons, etc.) but its summation seems somewhat forced.

Actually, many of the relationships seem a bit forced, but that's a criticism of the characters, not on the author. These living, breathing people are constantly trying to force themselves into a particular shape, a particular kind of relationship...and the only one that feels completely organic is the one that fell apart twenty years ago. There's kind of a beautiful focus on youth and childhood seen in the aside about Marina and Dave's running together in the strawberry fields, in Ken's embracing of the photo of his mother, and also in the creepy dolls that, as one character regards, will never grow up. It's a lesson about slowing down - you're only a kid for so long and, once your'e not anymore, you'll spend your whole lives trying to get that time back again.


Monday Mailbox: The Multiple Giveaway Edition

Monday Mailbox is hosted this month by Metroreader.

I did not receive any new books this week. Lame. I know. BUT I wanted to make everyone aware of the two giveaways happening this month here at The Literary Gothamite.

The first is for the book I reviewed in yesterday's post, Drifting House by Krys Lee. You can read about that here. And you can enter the giveaway here. The winner will be announced this Friday, February 17th.

The second is for the upcoming release of Christina Alger's The Darlings. From the press release:
THE DARLINGS is one of the first novels set during the fall of 2008, when New York is newly reeling from the financial crisis. It follows the interwoven stories of the Darling family, two eager SEC attorneys and a team of journalists, as they race against one another over the course of one weekend to uncover—or cover up—the truth. Compared by Library Journal to the novels of Dominick Dunne and Tom Wolfe, THE DARLINGS is part family drama, part corporate thriller, and offers an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society—a world seldom seen by outsiders.
 The Darlings will be released on February 20th, which is when I'll announce the giveaway winner. You can enter the giveaway here.


Review & Giveaway: Drifting House, by Krys Lee

Hello there boys and girls. I'm sorry for the radio silence...I've been detained with sick/gym/work/mess/catching-up-on-dance-moms/sleep...ness. It's no excuse, but it's my excuse. Onward...

Krys Lee makes a startling and beautiful debut with Drifting House, a collection of short stories about the human experience as seen through the filter of the differences between American and Korean cultures. 

Without artifice, and without judgement, Lee picks her way through the lives that inspire her and transforms them on the page with bold, ravishing brush strokes from which you cannot look away. Innocence, pain, savagery and bliss are all portrayed with a fragile frankness that reminds us that we are all of these things, sometimes all at once. This is what it is to be human. 

Whether the story is about a little boy who knows everything, or a woman who knows too much the theme seems to be a personal and unrelenting honesty or, rather, freedom through self-revelation and honesty. A thematic oldie, but a goodie.

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Viking, I'm holding a giveaway for a brand new copy Drifting House this week. 

The contest is open to US & Canadian residents until 11:59PM on Thursday, February 16th. You can only enter one time, but you can get an extra entry by linking the giveaway on Twitter (just make sure you mention @lalalalaurs)! 

The contest winner will be selected randomly and an announcement will be made here on Friday, February 17th. 

Click here to enter.


Review: The Kama Sutra, attributed to Vatsyayana, in a new translation by A. N. D. Haksar

The Kama Sutra
attributed to Vatsyayana
translated by
A. N. D. Haksar
Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition
The Kama Sutra is one of the most popular and most controversial written works in history. Its exotic yet universal nature is appealing to a wide range of personalities, and its reputation as a visual how-to for sexual amusement is well-known.

There are hundreds of versions of the illustrated Kama Sutra, with various styles and for a plethora of target audiences. But despite its cliché, The Kama Sutra was originally considered the mark of a well-rounded education. And if you’re looking for the cliché, you won’t find it here.

The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, newly translated by A. N. D. Haksar, and published this week, is a focus on the work’s original historical and social importance, rather than a collection of sexual positions. In fact, the closest you’ll get to any of that is on the cover, designed by Malika Favre. The interior is all a linguistic dance around the methods and means of seduction, marriage and passion. But for all that, for all that it could be, it’s rather dated and lackluster.

The sexist nature of the original work does not translate well for a twenty-first century audience. Sure, sex is sex and it hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last 50,000 years, but the idea that a man must bewitch a woman or that forcible marriage (by way of kidnapping, rape, and/or murder) is necessary, or that it’s okay to seduce the wife of another man if that man has treasure that belongs to you…these ideas are crude, dated, sexist and just plain uncomfortable. Even the more benign concepts of marriage, which establish women as the keepers of the home and maintainers of a sanctuary for their husbands, are now (though perhaps most recently of all the changes) outdated.

Add to that the descriptions in the chapter on “Esoteric matters” (wherein we learn that a certain powder “…when mixed with monkey shit and sprinkled over a virgin girl, ensures that she is not given to another man.”) and you’ve got a relatively unattractive volume of advice on sexual socialization that has little bearing on today’s world.