By Andrew Ridker
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Genre: Adult, Literary Fiction, Contemporary
A vibrant and perceptive novel about a father’s plot to win back his children’s inheritance.
Arthur Alter is in trouble. A middling professor at a Midwestern college, he can’t afford his mortgage, he’s exasperated his much-younger girlfriend, and his kids won’t speak to him. And then there’s the money–the small fortune his late wife Francine kept secret, which she bequeathed directly to his children.
Those children are Ethan, an anxious recluse living off his mother’s money on a choice plot of Brooklyn real estate; and Maggie, a would-be do-gooder trying to fashion herself a noble life of self-imposed poverty. On the verge of losing the family home, Arthur invites his children back to St. Louis under the guise of a reconciliation. But in doing so, he unwittingly unleashes a Pandora’s box of age-old resentments and long-buried memories–memories that orbit Francine, the matriarch whose life may hold the key to keeping them together.
Spanning New York, Paris, Boston, St. Louis, and a small desert outpost in Zimbabwe, The Altruists is a darkly funny (and ultimately tender) family saga in the tradition of Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides, with shades of Philip Roth and Zadie Smith. It’s a novel about money, privilege, politics, campus culture, dating, talk therapy, rural sanitation, infidelity, kink, the American beer industry, and what it means to be a “good person.”
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I was happy to get back into the literary fiction genre with The Altruists. It was a bit of a hard transition to go from my norm (lately at least) of romance and thriller novels, back into the completely different world of literature. It definitely makes your brain work in a completely different way!
I think it was this difference in thinking that made me have such a difficult time getting into the story of Arthur and his family. In the beginning I was bored, and found myself having to re-read pages at a time because I would realize that my mind had wondered elsewhere and I had no idea what was happening. Was this a product of different brain mechanics or just a boring story? In reality I’m not 100% sure, however I am blaming it on my brain, and not the author’s writing.
I’m not blaming Andrew Ridker because I did find myself genuinely interested in the story and really wanted to know the answers to the two main questions: Where did the money Arthur’s children inherit come from? and Why was Arthur asking for his children to come home/would his plan work once they got there? While I would find my brain tired from all of the exercise I was putting it through to get to these answers I truly was interested.
Overall, the story of the Alter family was an interesting one. They dynamic they have and the history to how they got to who they are today is one of intrigue. To see how different Arthur’s children, Ethan and Maggie, are really makes you ponder the whole Nature vs. Nurture debate - not that either of them were really nurtured by Arthur, but their relationships with him were definitely different.
Would I read The Altruists again? No, probably not. But I would recommend it to anyone who likes to ponder ethics and the mysteries of the human psyche.
From one bookaholic to another, I hope I’ve helped you find your next fix.
Dani's Score out of 5: 🍾🍾🍾🍾
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