• May 25, 2012

We highlight two novels that explore our contemporary financial and social dystopia from wildly different points of view. Want a change of pace? Spend some time with "rare creatures and people . . . sometimes too compassionate for their own good." Megan Mayhew Bergman's debut short story collection delights.

If you want to spend some delightful time with “rare creatures and people who are sometimes too compassionate for their own good,” read Megan Mayhew Bergman’s debut short-story collection Birds of a Lesser Paradise. From there, today’s Snapshot highlights two novels that tell of our contemporary financial and social dystopia from wildly different points of view. In Mike Cooper’s thriller, Clawback, Wall Street’s most hated money managers are being murdered.  And Kris D’Agostino’s The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac comments “on the decade’s socioeconomic morass seen through the eyes of one of its victims … .”


Birds of a Lesser Paradise
by Megan Mayhew Bergman
221 pp.

Rare creatures and people who are sometimes too compassionate for their own good populate this rich collection of stories. Characters struggle to protect the weak in a needy, overpopulated world. They bond, support and wound each other, even though, as one character observes, “The best predators had no empathy.” In “Saving Face,” a pretty vet is bitten and disfigured by a hybrid wolf she is treating. In “Every Vein a Tooth,” a character fills her house with so many wounded animals she drives away the man who loves her. “Yesterday’s Whales,” a story at the heart of the collection, had me laughing one minute and brought tears to my eyes the next. “I wanted to become what I most admired,” Bergman writes. “I wanted to be that exalted complicated presence in someone’s life, the familiar body the source of another’s existence. But I knew what I wanted was not always what I needed.” This is a charming debut collection, with a still and wise assurance at its center.

~Amanda Holmes Duffy

by Mike Cooper
390 pp.

Who is murdering the most hated money managers on Wall Street? That’s the question Mike Cooper asks in his new thriller, Clawback. A better question might be: Who is murdering the modern American thriller? It would seem that a thriller that combines Wall Street’s evil machinations, black-ops killers and high-tech Internet wizardry would have no problem being an easy, entertaining read. But this one, sad to say, isn’t. Its mercenary hero, Silas Cade, who has eliminated all traces of his identity (which somehow doesn’t stop anyone from finding him) is hired to root out the killer of investment bankers. A fascinating premise, although one would think that after the financial debacle of the past few years there would be too many suspects to handle. No fear. Cade is not only a killing machine who can break two collarbones with “kenpo” power strikes (albeit on the same miscreant), but also a financial genius who knows his way around the Byzantine world of hedge funds, financial derivatives and computer bots. And what he doesn’t know, his many pals and contacts on Wall Street and in the high-tech world do. Aided by a financial blogger named Clara Dawson, who wants to break a huge story, Cade tracks down the killer, fending off a virtual army of assassins. At one point he winds up hanging from a helicopter until he fortuitously falls into the East River. Or maybe it’s the Hudson. Readers won’t care, since by this time they have dealt with so many characters, arcane references and improbable situations (including a high-speed car chase that anyone who has ever driven in Manhattan traffic knows is impossible) they won’t care if he has fallen into the Mississippi. Despite its name, there is hardly any sex in Clawback, presumably because most of the evil financial types are too busy doing to the rest of us what they should be doing to their significant others. As for the bizarre financial schemes detailed in the book: If they are anywhere close to reality, Silas Cade should come in from the cold and advertise his “kenpo” talents. He’ll get plenty of business.

~Lawrence De Maria


The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac
by Kris D’Agostino
Algonquin Books
328 pp.

“I work with retards.” From this opening line, it is difficult to warm up to Calvin Moretti, the protagonist of The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac. The ennui of adolescence in a 24-year-old does not inspire empathy. Cal was a film major at what he describes as a very expensive, liberal-arts college run by the Jesuits in Connecticut. After a four-month unsuccessful stint in grad school, he returns to live at home with his father, mother and younger siblings — a brother who is a type-A businessman and a sister who becomes pregnant by an indifferent high-school boyfriend. Cal’s father, a commercial pilot, is grounded by cancer and depression, and the resulting financial loss has put the family in jeopardy of losing their home. It doesn’t sound funny. It isn’t. Cal is on a treadmill of getting high, listening to music, hanging out with childhood friends who have a similar lack of ambition and working at a job he barely tolerates as a teaching assistant at a school for autistic children. Although genuinely fond of his pupil, Arham, Cal continues to refer to the students as retarded, symptomatic of his sophomoric view of the world. He is self-aware enough to realize his mindset but powerless to overcome it. The story, a commentary on the decade’s socioeconomic morass seen through the eyes of one of its victims, describes but does not illuminate. It is a contemporary “Seinfeld” episode, without the punch lines.

~C.B. Santore

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