Union Atlantic

Union Atlantic

by Adam Haslett

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Overview

From the acclaimed author of Imagine Me Gone and the Pulitzer Prize finalist You Are Not A Stranger Here, a stunning, masterful portrait of our modern gilded age.
 
At the heart of Union Atlantic lies a test of wills between a retired history teacher, Charlotte Graves—who has suddenly begun to hear her two dogs speaking to her in the voices of Cotton Mather and Malcolm X—and an ambitious young banker, Doug Fanning, who is building an ostentatious mansion on what was once Charlotte’s family land. Drawn into the conflict is Nate Fuller, a troubled high-school student who stirs powerful emotions in both of them. What emerges is a riveting story of financial power, the defense of tradition, and the distortions of desire these forces create. With remarkable scope and precision, Union Atlantic delivers a striking vision of the violent, anxious world we’ve come to inhabit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307388292
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/08/2011
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Adam Haslett is the author of the novel Imagine Me Gone; the short story collection You Are Not A Stranger Here, which was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist and which won the PEN/Winship Award; and the novel Union Atlantic, which won the Lambda Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. His books have been translated into eighteen languages, and he has received the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin, the PEN/Malamud Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations. He lives in New York City.

Hometown:

New York, New York

Date of Birth:

December 24, 1970

Place of Birth:

Porchester, New York

Education:

B.A., Swarthmore College, 1993; M.F.A., Iowa Writers¿ Workshop, 1999; J.D., Yale Law School, graduating May 2003

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

A plot of land. That’s what Doug told his lawyer. Buy me a plot of land, hire a contractor, and build me a casino of a house. If the neighbors have five bedrooms, give me six. A four-car garage, the kitchen of a prize-winning chef, high ceilings, marble bathrooms, everything wired to the teeth. Whatever the architecture magazines say. Make the envying types envious.

“What do you want with a mansion?” Mikey asked. “You barely sleep in your own apartment. You’d get nothing but lost.”

Finden, Doug told him. Build it in Finden.

And so on a Sunday morning in January 2001, Mikey had picked Doug up at his place in Back Bay and they had driven west out of Boston in a light snow, the gray concrete of the overpasses along the Mass Pike blending with the gray sky above as they traveled the highway that Doug had traveled so often as a kid. It had been six years now since he’d moved back up to Massachusetts from New York. What had brought him was a job at Union Atlantic, a commercial bank whose chairman and CEO, Jeffrey Holland, had entrusted Doug with the company’s expansion. In the years since, his salary and bonuses had accumulated in the various accounts and investments his financial adviser had established, but he’d spent practically nothing.

“You’re pathetic,” Mikey had said to him once, when he’d come back to Doug’s apartment for a beer and seen the college furniture and books still in their boxes. “You need a life.”

A solo practitioner, Mikey had gone to Suffolk Law at night, while he worked at a bail-bond office. He lived with his girlfriend in one of the new condos in South Boston, six stories up and two blocks east of the house he’d grown up in, his mother still cooking him dinner on Sunday nights. He liked to call himself a well-rounded lawyer, which in practice meant he did everything but drive his clients to work.

A few miles short of the Alden town line, they turned off at the Finden exit onto a wooded road that opened out into the snow-covered meadows of a golf course, used at this time of year for cross-country skiing. They passed under an old, arched brick railway bridge and soon after reached the first stretch of houses.

The town was much as Doug remembered it from the days when he’d driven his mother to work here: mostly woods, the homes widely spaced, with big yards and long driveways, the larger homes hidden from view by hedges and gates. When they reached the village center, he saw that the old stores had been replaced by newer clothing boutiques and specialty food shops, though their signage, by town ordinance, remained conservative and subdued. The benches on the sidewalks were neatly painted, as were the fire hydrants and the elaborate lampposts and the well-tended wooden planters.

On the far side of this little town center, the houses became sparse again, one large colonial after the next, most of them white clapboard with black trim. They passed a white steepled church with a snow-covered graveyard and a mile or so farther along turned onto a dirt track that led down a gentle incline. A few hundred yards into the woods, Mikey brought the car to a halt and cut the engine.

“This is it,” he said. “Five acres. Up ahead you got a river. The other side’s all Audubon so they can’t touch you there. One other house up the hill to the right, and a couple more on the far side of that. Any other place, they’d put eight houses on a piece this size, but the locals ganged up and zoned it huge.”

Stepping out of the car, they walked over the frozen ground farther down the track until they reached the bank of the river. Only four or five yards across and no more than a few feet deep, it flowed over a bed of leaves and mossy rock.

“Amazing,” Doug said, “how quiet it is.”

“The town’s asking for two point eight,” Mikey said. “My guy thinks we can get it for two and a half. That is if you’re still crazy enough to want it.”

“This is good,” Doug said, peering across the water into the bare black winter trees. “This is just fine.”





The house took a year to complete: three months to clear the land, bury the pipes, and dig a foundation, another seven for construction, and two more for interior work and landscaping. For the right sum, Mikey oversaw all of it.

By the time it was done, the real estate market had progressed as Doug had foreseen. After the tech bust in 2000, the Federal Reserve had cut interest rates, making mortgages cheap, and thus opening the door for all that frightened capital to run for safety into houses. The attacks on 9/11 had only sped the trend. These new mortgages were being fed into the banks like cars into a chop shop, stripped for parts by Union Atlantic and the other big players, and then securitized and sold on to the pension funds and the foreign central banks. Thus were the monthly payments of the young couples in California and Arizona and Florida transformed by the alchemy of finance into a haven for domestic liquidity and the Chinese surplus, a surplus earned by stocking the box stores at which those same couples shopped. With all that money floating around, the price of real estate could only rise. Before Doug ever opened the front door, the value of his new property had risen thirty percent.

The first night he slept in Finden he remembered his dreams as he hadn’t in years. In one, his mother wandered back and forth along the far end of a high-school gymnasium, clad in a beige raincoat, her hands in her pockets, her head tilted toward the floor. They were late again for Mass. Doug called to her from beneath the scrub oak in their tiny backyard. Its bark peeled away, he saw veins pumping blood into branches suddenly animate and forlorn. A priest waited in an idling sedan. In the distance, he heard the sound of a ship’s cannon firing. Oblivious to all of this, focused only on the floorboards in front of her, his mother kept pacing. As the deck beneath him began to list, Doug rolled to his knees to break his fall.

He woke on his stomach, sweating. The wall was an uncanny distance from the bed, the pale-yellow paint someone had chosen for it beginning to glow dimly in the early-morning light. He rolled onto his back and stared at the stilled ceiling fan, its rounded chrome fixture as spotless as the deck of the Vincennes on inspection day.

Here he was, thirty-seven, lying in his mansion.

Reaching for the remote at his side, he switched on the TV.

.?.?. Israel denies Arafat request to leave West Bank compound, the CNN ticker began .?.?. Pakistan in discussions with U.S. to hand over chief suspect in murder of Wall Street Journal reporter .?.?. CT residents to pay $50 more per year for garbage collection after State Trash Authority loss of $200 million on deal with Enron .?.?.

His BlackBerry began vibrating on the floor beside his keys; it was his trader in Hong Kong, Paul McTeague, calling.

At Doug’s level of bank management, most people relied on underlings to handle recruiting, but that had never been his practice. He insisted on choosing his own people, right down to the traders. McTeague had been one of his. They’d met a few years ago on a flight to London. A Holy Cross grad, McTeague had grown up in Worcester and learned the business with a specialist on the floor of the NYSE. A rabid Bruins fan, his conversation didn’t extend much beyond hockey and derivatives. Twenty-eight and itching to make a killing. The human equivalent of a single-purpose vehicle. In short, perfect for the job. Usually Doug would have waited awhile before clueing in a new guy as to how he, in particular, ran the flow of information, i.e. avoiding intermediate supervisors. But he could tell right away that McTeague was his kind, and so he’d told him straight out: If you’ve got a problem and you’re getting hassled, just call.

Two months ago, when the head of the back office at the Hong Kong desk had left, Doug had installed McTeague as the temporary replacement, thus putting him in charge of all paperwork and accounting, and expanding the dominion of an employee with direct loyalty to him. The more raw information Doug could get stovepiped up from the front lines without interference from all the middling professionals, the more direct power over outcomes he wielded.

“You’re a genius,” McTeague said when Doug answered his phone. “The Nikkei’s up another two percent. Our economy’s still in the tank but Japanese stocks keep rising. It’s a thing of beauty.”

A month and a half ago, in early February, he and McTeague had been at a conference in Osaka. After one of the sessions, they had gone to Murphy’s, the bar where the Australians pretended to be Irish. They were about to call it a night when Doug saw a senior deputy in the Japanese Ministry of Finance stumble in with a Korean woman half his age. The man shook his head in resignation as his young companion made her way straight for the bar and ordered a bottle of scotch. Interested to see how things would play out, Doug ordered another round and he and McTeague settled in to watch. The argument in the corner grew steadily more heated. The woman was demanding something the man didn’t want to give, the Tokyo deputy apparently at wits’ end with his mistress. Eventually, after being harangued for half an hour, he stood up, threw cash on the table, and walked out of the bar.

That’s when the idea had occurred to Doug: the young woman might know something.

“Do me a favor,” he’d said to McTeague. “Comfort the girl.”

And a good job of it McTeague had done. At some point after they’d had sex, the deputy’s mistress told him that the Ministry of Finance had a plan. They were about to launch another price-stability operation. The Japanese government would buy up a boatload of Japanese domestic stocks, sending the Nikkei index higher and thus shoring up the balance sheets of their country’s troubled banks. It was a classic command-economy move, using public money to interfere with the market’s valuations. In the process, the Japanese government would hand a major loss to the foreign, largely U.S. speculators who had been shorting the value of their stock market for months.

The operation, of course, was secret.

And thus it was that in mid-February, Atlantic Securities, the investment banking firm that Union Atlantic had purchased and renamed two years earlier as part of its expansion, had become the one American firm to go from bearish to bullish on the prospects for the Japa?- nese economy. Under Doug’s supervision, McTeague had placed large bets on the Nikkei going higher, using Atlantic Securities’ own money. The resulting trading profits had been substantial and were still flowing in. It would be awhile yet before the Ministry of Finance’s plan would become public and there was a lot of money to be made in the meantime.

“So,” McTeague asked, eager as ever, “how much cash do I get to play with tomorrow?”

“We’ll see,” Doug replied. “Call me after New York opens.”





The chilled marble of the bathroom floor felt particularly solid against the balls of his feet. Two huge sinks in the shape of serving bowls, one for the master and one for his wife, were set beneath mirrored cabinets along the far wall. Beyond were two shower stalls with shiny steel heads that jetted water from the walls and ceiling. Opposite these stood a patio-size cross between a Jacuzzi pool and a bathtub, the whole thing decked in slate.

Walking to the window, Doug looked out across the front of the house. Mikey had done a good job: a stately, circular driveway, an enormous freestanding garage mocked up like a barn, and, surrounding it all, pleasing expanses of lawn. Through a row of bare maples that had been left up the hill to mark the property line, he could see a dilapidated barn and beside it an ancient house with weathered shingles, a listing brick chimney, and a slight dip in the long rear slant of its roof. It was one of those old New England saltboxes that historical preservation societies kept tabs on, although not too closely by the looks of it. Whoever owned it didn’t seem to be occupying the place. Weeds had risen in the rutted gravel drive. On the one hand, it was the farthest thing from a Mickey D’s and a strip mall you could get, just the sort of nostalgia for which people loved towns like this, casting the dead starlight of American landed gentry, dotted with graveyards full of weathered headstones and the occasional field of decorative sheep. Allowed to decay too far, however, it could cause a decline in the value of Doug’s property. If some absentee WASP who’d retreated to his compound in Maine thought he could just let a house rot like this, it would have to be sorted out. He’d put Mikey on it, he thought, as he slipped out of his boxers and stepped into the shower.

Downstairs, he passed through the mansion’s empty rooms and, finding the touch-screen keypad by the front door inscrutable, pushed an Off button and saw the screen announce: Fanning Disarmed.

Mikey was good. He was very good.

As he came down the front steps, the late-winter sun was just beginning to strike the side of his garage. Glancing over the roof of his car, he saw a woman in a blue ski jacket coming out the back door of the old house up the hill, which was apparently inhabited after all. Tall and rather thin, she had longish gray hair and a stiff, upright posture. With her were two large dogs, a Doberman and some sort of mastiff. It looked as if the animals were too strong for her, that she might be pulled down by them, but a yank of her arm brought them under control and they led her in orderly fashion along the stone path to the overgrown driveway. At first Doug thought she hadn’t noticed him at such a distance. But then, as he was about to get in his car, she glanced in his direction, and Doug waved.

She made no response, as if surveying an empty landscape.

Rude or half blind, he couldn’t tell. Driving slowly, he turned onto Winthrop Street and, lowering the passenger-side window, rolled up beside her.

“Good morning. My name’s Doug Fanning. The new place here—it’s mine.”

For a moment, it seemed she hadn’t heard a word he said and was perhaps deaf to boot. But then, abruptly, as if the car had only now appeared, she came to a halt. Bringing the dogs to heel, she leaned down to look into the car. The deeply lined skin of her face had the same weathered gray hue as the side of her house. Without a word, as if he weren’t even there, she sniffed at the air of the car’s interior; the Lexus he’d leased for the new commute was still pine fresh.

“Trees,” she said. “Before you came. All of it. Trees.”

And with that she stood upright again and kept walking.

Reading Group Guide

The discussion questions and other material that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about Adam Haslett’s debut novel, Union Atlantic, a deeply absorbing and accurate vision of American history as lived in our modern gilded age—the first decade of the twenty-first century.

1. The opening chapter puts Doug Fanning at the center of a real event in July 1988: the U.S. Navy’s shooting down of an Iranian passenger jet, killing all 290 people aboard. Why might Haslett have chosen to give his protagonist this particular backstory? How is Doug’s past navy career related to his present one in finance, and how is the historical moment of 1988 related to America’s later involvements in Iraq (p. 286–87)?

2. The plot’s central conflict results when an ostentatious mansion is built in a wealthy Boston suburb next to an old colonial house. Charlotte Graves’s house is “the physical form her opinion of the world had come to take” (p. 196–97). What does Doug’s house express about his opinion of the world (pp. 114–16)?

3. Charlotte’s dogs speak to her in the voices of Cotton Mather, the Puritan preacher, and Malcolm X, the black activist. Why might these two outspoken figures be chosen as Charlotte’s constant companions?

4. What are the emotions that motivate Doug Fanning? What traits are lacking in his character? To what degree is Doug’s present character rooted in his family history, as described on pages 46–51 and elsewhere?

5. Several of the novel’s major characters—Nate, Henry, Evelyn—have recently lost someone close to them; Charlotte has been mourning her lover Eric for years. Why does the emotion of loss play such a powerful role in this story?

6. Charlotte, an idealist who does not seem well equipped for the world that surrounds her, has been fired from her job as a history teacher. Do you find her admirable? Or does she come across as an irrelevant crank, a person out of touch with reality? What does it mean that her sense of time is “porous” (pp. 165, 325)?

7. Doug watches as “workers clicked away at their screens . . . until they no longer noticed the bargain struck between meaningless days and whatever private comforts they’d found to convince themselves the meaninglessness was worth it. But it was different if those workers were your muscles and tendons and by your will you directed their exertion, regulating the blood of cash. Then you weren’t an object of the machine. You were something different: an artist of the consequential world. A shaper of fact. Not the kind of author Sabrina wanted to be—some precious observer of effete emotion—but the master of conditions others merely suffered” (p. 191). What does this passage say about Doug, and about power as it is expressed in the workplace?

8. When Charlotte states her reason for refusing to move and for her legal suit against Doug, Henry admits to himself that she is “close . . . to the height of her powers” (p. 203). Do you agree that Charlotte needs to take a stand against “what’s going on in this country” (p. 202–203)? Does the novel suggest that it would be better if more Americans felt as passionate about their principles as Charlotte does?

9. The Fourth of July party given by the Hollands gathers together most of the characters in the novel, including Nate and his friends. What is the image of American wealth that emerges here, and what is most effectively satirical in the way Haslett has constructed the event (pp. 221–59)?

10. Evelyn Jones thinks of Henry Graves as “an old-schooler,” “a man who sounded as if he meant what he said” (p. 223). He believes in the meaning of words, in the public trust. On a moral spectrum, what is his position in the novel? Does the prosecution of Doug Fanning imply that the interests of the public trust are still being served? Or is the social vision of the novel a pessimistic one?

11. How does Nate explain to himself the meaning of his desire for Doug Fanning, and the fact that he is willing to betray Charlotte for him (p. 265)?

12. The monetary system, Henry says to Evelyn Jones, is “all anchored to nothing but trust. Cooperation. You could even say faith, which sometimes I do, though it’s certainly of an earthly kind” (p. 278). What is Evelyn Jones’s role in this system of trust, cooperation, and faith? How does she overcome the temptation to betray it? How is her brother’s death connected to her decision to tell Henry Graves about the cover-up at Union Atlantic (pp. 279–80)?

13. Haslett does an extraordinary job of showing how the monetary system works, and how a once local bank like Union Atlantic can become a conglomeration of dangerously unstable financial “products.” What do you find most illuminating about the novel’s focus on money and banking?

14. Doug’s mother and Nate’s mother are both single parents. Why does Doug decide to go and visit his mother? How are Doug and Nate similar to each other, and why might Haslett have chosen to show their situations as parallel?

15. What do you think of Charlotte’s relationship with Nate? She asks him, “Can you trust the pulse of life without becoming Mr. Fanning? Because he is the future. . . . His kind of rapaciousness, it doesn’t end. It just bides its time” (p. 263). Is Charlotte right about Doug, given Doug’s treatment of Nate? Does the end of the novel, with Doug in Iraq, confirm Charlotte’s opinion?

16. Charlotte sets fire to her house when she loses her case against Doug and realizes that she is also losing her mind. Why is it significant that she starts the fire by pouring gasoline on her books and sits to watch the flames engulf her bookcases (pp. 326–27)? What does the scene suggest about the American culture that Charlotte represents?

17. Reviewer Ron Charles wrote that Adam Haslett “may be our F. Scott Fitzgerald, an author capable of memorializing our crash in all its personal cost and lurid beauty” (The Washington Post, February 10, 2010). What is most effective, for you, about the way Haslett has conveyed what it’s like to live in our economically and ethically troubled times?


(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center e-newsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com.)

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Union Atlantic 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
cnnllsn More than 1 year ago
Encompassing a range of topics and situations from success at work, disaffected citizenry, to sexual and familial relationships, this novel weaves a strong plot that made me not want to stop reading. Reading it each morning on the subway I almost missed my stop each time. It really pulls you in and answers modern personal questions that have crossed all of our minds.
lynnytisc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very engaging story about a fictional bank and one of it's players, and his clash with a very excentric iconoclast, Charlotte the retired history teacher. It's a very current subject as the bank players play fast and loose skirting the rules and how the federal reserve looks the other way. Charlotte is a neighbor to the palatial mansion of Doug Fanning the selfish mysogynist, who wants her eyesore of a house removed. Charlotte is a delight and her dogs talk to her in the character of Cotton Mather and Malcolm X.The most poignant moment in the book is when Doug finds himself afoul of the law, he goes to visit his alcoholic mother who he left without a goodbye when he joined the navy years before, and finds her sober and thriving in his old house. He expected to find her still broken down and is rather disappointed to find her living happily.
chorn369 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Union Atlantic" is a sensitive, engrossing intersection of four lives in the battle for control of a pristine piece of real estate just outside of Boston, where the suburbs give way to what is left of idyllic and bucolic townships. A master-of- the-universe options trader,, a lonely, spinster former school teacher, her brother, who leads with integrity a branch of the U.S. Federal Reserve, a very insecure, manipulated teenage boy and other characters around them are either destroyed, compromised, or damaged by the fight over the property. A few of the characters, even though they either create damage or are damaged, emerge with small gains in their humanity.The amoral options trader at the center of the book could have been pulled from the headlines of the newspapers chronicling the excesses of the 2008-2010 financial crisis. He is villainous, creates ruin at his job, on the McMansion he has built on the disputed property, and particularly against the teenage boy, but he allows himself one small action that likely does not redeem him, but shows that even the most egregious villains may be capable of small gestures of compassion.Reading "Union Atlantic" kept me up all night; the story propels like a market crash.
bookchickdi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Watching the Congressional hearings into Goldman Sachs made me appreciate the prescience of Adam Haslett's brilliant novel, Union Atlantic.Written in the year before the economic collapse of 2009, Haslett's novel features a young gun investment banker, Doug Fanning, whom we first meet in 1988 when he is stationed on a US naval ship that is escorting Kuwaiti tankers through the Straits of Hormuz. Fanning sees an unidentified plane on his radar, and alerts his commander. A decision is made to fire upon the plane and 290 people lost their lives as their Iranian Airbus passenger jet was shot down by the Americans.The incident gets covered up, as well as the fact that Fanning failed to tell his commander that the jet was ascending, not descending as the commander was told. This incident and its aftermath leads Fanning to become the kind of man who later sets in motion a financial disaster that threatens the U.S. banking system.Fanning becomes a big success as an investment banker at Union Atlantic. He takes risks there as well, and as long as he produces big profits for the bank and in turn himself, he can cut all the corners he likes. His boss is willfully ignorant of Fanning's schemes.When Fanning builds a huge McMansion next to property owned by Charlotte Graves, he underestimates her. The land was owned by her grandfather, and Charlotte believes his house is obscene. Charlotte, a retired teacher, is eccentric, slipping into insanity. She believes that her two dogs are the incarnated Malcolm X and Cotton Mather, and they frequently share their conflicting advice with Charlotte.Charlotte ends up tutoring Nate, a teenage boy whose father recently committed suicide. Nate and his mother are barely existing together. He breaks into Fanning's home, and ends up in a dangerous sexual relationship with Fanning. Fanning wants Nate to help get Charlotte off his back, and he is willing to use Nate's vulnerability to get what he wants.When a colleague working for Fanning runs a scheme that unravels, Charlotte brother Henry Graves, the president of the New York Federal Reserve, becomes involved in trying to keep this from ruining the entire entangled U. S. economy. (Hank Paulson, anyone?)How Haslett weaves these stories together is a wonder. He doesn't write this novel, he crafts it. It took me along time to read this book because I frequently reread passages, they were that beautiful. Of Nate realizing that Charlotte needed him, he writesThese last many months the intuition of others' needs had become Nate's second nature, as if his father's going had cut him a pair of new, lidless eyes that couldn't help but see into a person such as this this: marooned and specter-driven.His characters are vivid and complex. Nate is flailing about, wanting to be loved and willing to debase himself to do it. Charlotte is a genius, bordering on insane, and Fanning is amoral, sinking further into the morass.It is astonishing that a fiction writer created this dialogue in 2008, when Henry the NY Fed Chair says to the CEO of Union Atlantic"Let me start by saying that if you or your board is under the impression that Union Atlantic is too big to fail, you're mistaken. There's no question here of a bailout. If you go under, the markets will take a hit, but with enough liquidity in the system we can cut you loose. I hope you understand that." This, of course, was a bluff. Henry has already begun receiving calls from the Treasury Department.This novel is one of the best books I have read this decade. The story is relevant and the characters are powerful. Haslett is a true craftsmen. If you like good fiction, this is a book you must read.
ccayne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was so much more than I was led to believe by reviewers. One piece of it involves the acts of Doug Fanning as a banker at Union Atlantic. All the characters are fascinating and tied to together in ways which are not apparent to the characters. The omniscient narrator is what makes this book work. The development of all the characters was wonderful. I found myself thinking about why or if I sympathize with any of them. Certainly Nate and Charlotte and Henry Graves. They all made an impact on me and I found myself thinking about them when I wasn't listening. It seemed that the common thread among each of them was a sense of isolation, often self imposed. Doug Fanning was the most enigmatic. He was obviously angry and had a chip on his shoulder, although I'm not sure why. Another mystery was who was his father. He moved decisively in almost everything he did but without any purpose other than to benefit himself - keep himself from blame, not sure. Charlotte and Henry each has a strong moral compass but had gone in very different directions. Charlottes' dogs Wilkie and Sam were a fascinating narrative device - I think that aspect of the book benefited tremendously in an audio. Nate was just an innocent. I wonder about the image at the of the book of Doug's mother and Nate - real or imagined? It was just wonderful example of literary fiction and so much more than a story about finance.
Clif on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
GarySeverance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Adam Haslett is one of a group of talented writers (Jonathan Dee, Michael Mewshaw, Dan Chaon) describing turn of the century social and personal dilemmas in their novels. The novelty of the books is not in the themes explored; they appear in fiction at the beginning of each century. Themes involving social responsibility, personal accountability, the rule of law, ethics, insight, and absolute/relative truth have been explored by many great authors(e.g., Thomas Mann in The Magic Mountain). It is the interpretation of time in its current context, how it is structured and understood by societies and individuals, that make these contemporary authors stand out now. Union Atlantic is an exciting story of high finance with well-developed and interesting characters who try to make sense of the times they are in and gain insight into their own psychological development. The action is centered on the activities of a New York bank that grew as a traditional money lending institution in the volatile economy of the first decade of the 21st Century. As a result of aggressive financial tactics, at first within the letter of the law, Union Atlantic distanced itself from tradition and became a leader in international trading. The novel concerns the consequences of the separation of traditional ethics and current banking practices, the rejection of historical rules and the establishment of risky procedures justified by present opportunities. The characters are affected by their social history and current events in a similar way in the post 9/11 world. Nate associates with economically advantaged teenage peers who are largely ignorant of history. The focus of his life involves trying to understand his emerging personal desires without the historical context of abiding moral standards. Doug, at 37, is the chief high stakes organizer at Union Atlantic. He was educated in traditional business practices, but understands his personal responsibility on a short term basis, as if old standards are irrelevant in the current financial climate. Charlotte, a retired high school history teacher, understands the connection between American history and her own life path. She sees a common pattern in the apparent chaos of both time lines, rejecting her comfortable solitude after realizing her inner life is only one part of her story. The integrity of the bank depends on public trust and the parallel integrity of the characters depends personal trust. The bank can stay in business if the public has faith in the long term propriety of its transactions. The current context allows for some violation of this standard as long as the current activities show a profit. The characters can live with themselves as long as they have faith in the long term propriety of love. The current context allows for some violation of this standard as long as immediate needs are met. The problem with both violations is that the phrase, `as long as,' in the novel is short term. The real dilemma for Union Atlantic and the characters is the integration of lessons of the past with actions in present circumstances. I strongly recommend Adam Haslett's novel, Union Atlantic to readers who like an exciting story and insightful character development. I predict that the themes will be repeated in a new context by novelists in the first decade of the 22nd Century.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author of this novel depicts the operations of the financial world accurately, namely his description of the activities of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York whose President is a character in the novel. However, I was unimpressed with the story and the machinations of the young banker and retired history teacher, who just happens to be the sister of the Fed Bank President, at the heart of the novel. Our country deserves both better and more convincing portrayals that achieve more of the ambition that is desired but not demonstrated by this novel.
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tomthom1 More than 1 year ago
Haslett's writing is swift and incisive. He takes you to the heart of our conflicted times. By playing off the two main characters, he examines the modern tension between traditionalist and progressive, one with a life bounded by rules, the other in a life of seizing opportunities. This is Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities" for the 21st century.
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Brad_the_nook_nerd More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed Union Atlantic and found it to be quite a page turner. It didn't have the same level of depth of Adam Haslett's collection of stories in You Are Not a Stranger here, but I found it both thought provoking and entertaining at the same time. I enjoyed seeing the financial crisis for so many different perspectives and I think the author does a good job of probing the perspective of the regulatory establishment though the character of Henry--something we don't really see in the press. The story of the bank crisis in Union Atlantic is that of a minor problem that becomes a major problem in the cover-up--an idea that clearly transcends the financial crisis.
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bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Watching the Congressional hearings into Goldman Sachs made me appreciate the prescience of Adam Haslett's brilliant novel, Union Atlantic. Haslett's novel features a young gun investment banker, Doug Fanning, whom we first meet in 1988 when he is stationed on a US naval ship that is escorting Kuwaiti tankers through the Straits of Hormuz. An Iranian passenger jet with 290 people on it was shot down by the Americans. The incident gets covered up, as well as the fact that Fanning failed to tell his commander that the jet was ascending, not descending as the commander was told. This incident leads Fanning to become the kind of man who later sets in motion a financial disaster that threatens the U.S. banking system. Fanning becomes a big success as an investment banker at Union Atlantic. He takes risks there as well, and as long as he produces big profits for the bank and in turn himself, he can cut all the corners he likes. His boss is willfully ignorant of Fanning's schemes. When Fanning builds a huge McMansion next to property owned by Charlotte Graves, he underestimates her. The land was owned by her grandfather, and Charlotte believes his house is obscene. Charlotte, a retired teacher, is eccentric, slipping into insanity. She believes that her two dogs are the incarnated Malcolm X and Cotton Mather, and they frequently share their conflicting advice with Charlotte. Charlotte ends up tutoring Nate, a teenage boy whose father recently committed suicide. He breaks into Fanning's home, and ends up in a dangerous sexual relationship with Fanning. Fanning wants Nate to help get Charlotte off his back, and he is willing to use Nate's vulnerability to get what he wants. When a colleague working for Fanning runs a scheme that unravels, Charlotte brother Henry Graves, the president of the New York Federal Reserve, becomes involved in trying to keep this from ruining the entire entangled U. S. economy. (Hank Paulson, anyone?) How Haslett weaves these stories together is a wonder. He doesn't write this novel, he crafts it. It took me along time to read this book because I frequently reread passages, they were that beautiful. Of Nate realizing that Charlotte needed him, he writes These last many months the intuition of others' needs had become Nate's second nature, as if his father's going had cut him a pair of new, lidless eyes that couldn't help but see into a person such as this this: marooned and specter-driven. His characters are vivid and complex. Nate is flailing about, wanting to be loved and willing to debase himself to do it. Charlotte is a genius, bordering on insane, and Fanning is amoral, sinking further into the morass. It is astonishing that a fiction writer created this dialogue in 2008, when Henry the NY Fed Chair says to the CEO of Union Atlantic "Let me start by saying that if you or your board is under the impression that Union Atlantic is too big to fail, you're mistaken. There's no question here of a bailout. If you go under, the markets will take a hit, but with enough liquidity in the system we can cut you loose. I hope you understand that." This, of course, was a bluff. Henry has already begun receiving calls from the Treasury Department. This novel one of the best books I have read this decade. The story is relevant and the characters are powerful. Haslett is a true craftsmen. If you like good fiction, read this.
mandersj More than 1 year ago
Pulitzer prize-winning writer Adam Haslett's debut novel is an epic and multi-layered intricately detailed story. "Union Atlantic" is heavily planted within the banking industry. Helmed by Doug Fanning, a seemingly invincible higher-up within Union Atlantic, one of the country's most powerful banks, Doug skirts the rules and laws of banking, and has made billions for himself as well as the company. Building a sprawling mansion on a piece of land he bought from the town in Finden, Massachusetts, Doug soon finds his nearest neighbor, Charlotte Graves, has a serious beef with him living on what she believes to be her family's land. Charlotte has a beef with many things, and her two dogs often talk her through both sides of whatever issue Charlotte is dealing with at the moment. Meanwhile, a seventeen-year-old boy whom Charlotte is tutoring (more like forcing her unintelligible rants upon) lets his curiosity get the better of him and decides to explore Doug's mansion and finds both Doug and his house captivating. Nate, the teen, and Doug enter into a sexual relationship that is described quite graphically at times. Between Doug's personal life and professional dealings, he's not a likeable guy. He takes advantage of Nate repeatedly, using Nate's body and coercing him into stealing some of Charlotte's personal documents to use against her in the fight over the property Doug's mansion is built on. When an insider trading scam is discovered, Doug decides to go to great lengths to cover it up. To avoid the downfall of Union Atlantic, as well as the downfall of the financial community at large, Doug does everything he can to cover up the scam, falling sadly short. This book is not about happy endings. We find morally corrupt Doug hiding out in the Middle East, right where he was when the book ambiguously began. Nate finds himself being the predator to others that he imagines Doug was to him. Rather than be forced into an assisted-living facility by her brother, Charlotte allows her reality-challenged mind overtake her in the end. Difficult to read, and highly technical within the banking storyline, I found myself disappointed there was not more of a resolution to the problems these characters got themselves into. I'm not sure a single character in this book was likeable, and perhaps that is Haslett's intention.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Basis of story sounded interesting. Author's previous short stories were well received. I hate to not a finish a book so I got through it but it was weak. I won't even keep it on my shelf to avoid someone else having to endure it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read numerous first time authors in the past and become a fan of their work. Sadly, Adam Haslett's Union Atlantic fails to capture my attention for future titles. Shallow plot, characters and overall execution led me to put the book down several times before putting it in my Goodwill gift box. I know Haslett's other writing is respected, but why any editor would recommend this story for publication is beyond me. Union Atlanta received a favorable review on NPR, which has been a good source for new books in the past, so I'm now equally disappointed in their review process. So, like the banking and investment community this book attempts to rip, I'm lacking confidence in both Haslett's fiction writing ability and NPR's reviews. Can we trust ANYTHING anymore?