The Altruists: A Novel
Debut author Andrew Ridker flips the traditional inheritance tale when struggling professor Arthur Alter coaxes his children home with the aim of gaining a piece of the pie left to them by their late mother. Daughter Maggie is caught by her own ideals, working odd jobs in New York and renouncing her inheritance, while son Ethan is spending it recklessly and floundering.
Both nurse a bitterness toward their father, but curiosity and the sense of unfinished business bring them back to St. Louis. Arthur clings to his past pursuits as evidence of his own goodness, and without their mother to hold them together, all three fail to see themselves clearly.
None of these characters are very likable, but Ridker grants humanity to even the most flawed of them, while inserting searing commentary into the prose. It's the writing here that really shines--this is some of the sharpest I've read in a while. Books with unlikable characters can sometimes be hard to love, but I found myself eager to read just to catch his next razor-sharp asides. The story itself is maybe not my favorite family drama--my personal taste calls for more sympathetic characters for it to be a favorite--but I look forward to more from Andrew Ridker.
Release date: March 5, 2019
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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.”