Sunday, September 4, 2011

Book Review: "Union Atlantic" by Adam Haslett

Doug Fanning, a cocky war hero, is a tremendously successful banker in Boston, where he works for a major financial institution. Having grown up the son of a housekeeper in a working-class suburb of Boston, his competitive nature has taken him to the top of his profession, giving him authority for multi-million-dollar financial transactions all over the world. Charlotte Graves is an eccentric former teacher whose family has long had roots in the wealthy Boston suburb of Finden. She lives with her two dogs, whom recently have begun speaking to her in the voices of Cotton Mather and Malcolm X. Nate Fuller is a disaffected high school senior whose life has lost direction since his father's suicide.

Adam Haslett's Union Atlantic hits its stride as the lives of Doug, Charlotte, and Nate intersect in a number of ways. This is a story of how the thirst for power—be it financial or power over another human being—can obsess a person; it is a story of the strange twists and turns that personal relationships can take; and it is a story of how when you pursue what you want single-mindedly, you may discover it isn't what you want at all.

A great author can hook you on a story even when the characters aren't completely appealing, and that is the case with Union Atlantic. Adam Haslett is a fantastic writer and he has created tremendously flawed yet amazingly appealing characters who draw you fully into their story. While the book gets mired down a bit too much in its financial details, particularly at the beginning, at its heart this is more of a story about personal relationships than the banking world in which a great portion of it is set. Even as it headed toward its somewhat-expected conclusion, the book intrigued me tremendously, and I've found myself still thinking about the characters and wondering what happened to them after the book ended. That, in my opinion, is the mark of a great story.

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