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clifhostetler

Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Union Atlantic - Adam Haslett This is a fictional account that takes the reader behind the scenes of intertwined private lives in the midst’s of a banking crisis in 2002 where “too big to fail” is a reoccurring consideration. The private lives followed in this book can be taken as symbols of the cultural forces competing for America’s soul in the aftermath of 9/11. The story that unfolds is filled with ethical and emotional complexities.

I found most of the characters developed by this novel to be not likeable. Consequently the book was a bit of a downer for me. The president of the New York Federal Reserve is a somewhat sympathetic character. The following quote from the book gives some of his inner thoughts as he ponders what to do with a large bank that has become the victim of fraudulent speculation in the international financial markets.

"Truth lay in the aggregate numbers, not in the images of citizens the media alighted upon for a minute or two and then quickly left behind. Currency devaluations created more misery than any corporate criminal ever would. What the populist critics rarely bothered to countenance was the shape of things in the wake of real, systemic collapse."

The last time he bailed out a big bank the chairman of the Fed had publicly distanced himself suggesting the market ought to have been left to settle the matter.

The following quote is an answer from Henry's colleague to the question, "So what would letting them go look like?”

“A bloodbath. They’ve got business in a hundred countries. Counterparties up and down the food chain. They’re ten percent of the municipal bond market. They’ve got more credit cards than Chase. And they’re overweighted in mortgage securities. They’re the definition of systemic risk. And we’re barely out of a recession. It’d be mal-practice to let them fail. You know it as well as I do.”

From the above quotes that I've lifted from the book you might get the impression that the book spends a lot of time addressing the moral dilemmas faced in deciding what to do with a failed financial institution. Unfortunately, the book spends most of its time following the private life conflicts and problems of the fictional characters, and the banking crisis is mostly background activity. I was hoping for more emphasis on the inner workings of banking regulators.

Also, I don't like novels that include graphic sexual encounters. In this book the encounters are homosexual in nature. It could be argued that in this book the sex scenes are symbolic of other inappropriate business relationships that are part of the plot. I can see that the author has written a well structured plot with several layers of meaning. Nevertheless, I found little to enjoy in this book.

Below is a copy of the review of this book from PageADay's Book Lover's Calendar for April 30, 2012:

BANK ON IT
Adam Haslett says he completed his sprawling yet elegant first novel—the tale of a banking titan pitted against a seemingly powerless retired history teacher—on the day Lehmann Brothers collapsed. So he emerges as remarkably prescient. Aside from the novelty factor, though, there’s also the quality of his book. As The Wall Street Journal says, “Decades from now, this fine novel will help readers understand the period we’ve just been through.”
UNION ATLANTIC, by Adam Haslett (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2010)