HDo you actually have the funds? asked the wealthy tycoon at the center of Hernand Diaz’s Booker shortlisted second novel. His answer was “fiction” — specifically “the fiction of money.” The value of any commodity comes from Our purchase of its broader narrative. Unless we believe that a banknote “represents a specific commodity,” it is just a printed piece of paper that can be misrepresented as easily as a novel, memoir, or diary.
Trust encompasses all three of these literary forms. Like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas or Richard Powers’ The Overstory, its structure relies on interconnected narratives that deepen and destabilize each other. Diaz’s first novel, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the distance, is about a penniless young Swedish immigrant who encounters charlatans and fanatics in California. In The Trust, he builds a postmodern version of a historical novel around a character on the other end of the economic scale—a Gatsby-esque tycoon in 1920s New York who dutifully throws lavish parties while he is rarely seen. See. His name was Andrew Bevel, a man who “became rich by playing the role of rich”. At his side is his seemingly long-suffering wife Mildred, a figure occasionally reminiscent of Zelda Fitzgerald. The Bevels’ marriage was built on “a core of quiet discomfort,” a shared embarrassment that was “inherent to most communications” for them. If every get-rich-quick story is ultimately a crime story—a story about who knew, how, and why—the heist at the heart of the Trust is the Wall Street Crash of 1929. By embracing the American spirit of “pretending to be successful,” Bevel found that the financial crisis made him richer. In fact, some New Yorkers are starting to claim he caused it.
The rich love scandals the most—when the reins of narrative production slip from their hands. Diaz’s own structure enacts this. The first part of “Trust” is a novel within a novel: a fictional account of the lives of this powerful New York couple. But that’s only the setting for the second part of the book, presented as Mr. Bevel’s own autobiography. Like all vanity projects that inadvertently amuse a millionaire, the purpose is to “solve and disprove” fictions about him, making history once and for all. What unfolds is a hilarious send-off of celebrity memoirs, full of generic and self-aggrandizing titles (My Life), tons of misleading clichés (“My wife is too vulnerable, too good for the world”), and the occasional glimpse below doesn’t A disguised capitalist mentality (“what matters is our achievements, not the stories about us”). Subsequent chapters of Bevel are randomly annotated into future drafts, and we know that the big man unfortunately lacks self-awareness of completion (“The whole section: ‘The clouds are thickening’? ”).
The third installment of Diaz’s book brings another change of weather: this is the narrative of a young Brooklyn woman who meets an aging financier during the Great Depression and is hired to help tell his story.At this point, we’re starting to feel like we’re mastering the Citizen Kane-esque mystery that drives the book: who used to be This tycoon, really? Is his wife really just an accessory on his arm? But the fourth and final part of the novel pulls the rug from us one last time, providing us with snippets of Mildred’s long-kept diary. Trust raises questions of authorship and ownership at every turn: When did wealth become the defining factor in every American success story? What values and costs can be assigned to the “great man” theory of history? Who do these people owe the most? If you imagine Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Virginia Woolf’s Diary, JM Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello and Ryan Gosling breaking the fourth wall in The Big Short of clever combinations, and you’ll get an idea of the surprising hybrid that Diaz has created.
It might illustrate that Diaz’s writing career began with an academic essay on Jorges Luis Borges, who once wrote that money represented “a whole set of possible futures.” Almost every page of Trust is filled with a Borges-esque sense of play, with a dash of Italo Calvino’s love of exploring different versions of a single idea or city. Through perfect sentences and a deft reading of certainty, Trust has created a great portrait of a changing New York across the centuries—a metropolis that is “the capital of the future,” but made up of citizens who are “naturally nostalgic.” In other words, a city that looks backwards and forwards at the same time—like any place that mixes old and new money. Trust is so full of irony that it can sometimes feel lifeless. But it’s also a work of real power and purpose. It makes us think about why the imaginative game category that we as a society value most is that of the financial markets, and often comes at a heavy price. It’s a testament to Diaz’s cunning abilities as a writer, and you end his book thinking — if truth is your goal — that you might be better off relying on novelists than bankers.