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". . . a literary novel . . .with a cast of disturbing characters."
In Union Atlantic, Adam Haslett deftly weaves a literary novel around the global financial crisis with a cast of disturbing characters. Ambitious investor Doug Flanning, moralist-historian Charlotte Graves and others intersect in a web of deviltry and deception.
After his naval career, Fanning returns to Massachusetts, not far from where he grew up poor, to manage an investment banking firm purchased by Union Atlantic. He is assigned to formulate long-term strategy to take advantage of Congress’ anticipated repeal of regulations that prevented banks from owning insurers and investment houses.
Bank President Jeffery Holland becomes a global player due to Flanning’s ferocious acquisitions “that were strictly speaking still illegal.” Fanning knew through his congressional contacts that the protections would be gone when the deals were made. After 9/11, when stock prices fell, Fanning enters into “proprietary trading,” pumping money into “futures and derivatives businesses” with Union Atlantic’s own money. Holland is aware of Fanning’s fraudulent practices and fake company but turns a blind eye as long as his bank was amassing a fortune.
Fanning’s next-door neighbor, Graves, is sickened by the construction of his massive mansion on forested land her grandfather donated to the city for preservation. It is through Graves’ character, a history teacher tutoring a young student, that the reader gains insight federal taxation and the banking system. And in an unbelievable twist, Graves’ brother, Henry, is president of the Federal Reserve Bank who, against his principles, agrees to bail out Holland’s bank because global economic consequences would be too severe.
Haslett’s intelligent story offers a clear understanding of banking deregulation and biased federal institutions created to oversee banks. His dynamic characters–Graves, who is slowly losing her mind, her student who becomes infatuated with Fanning and an honest whistleblower turns this into a fast-paced dramatic read.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla