I didn’t really want to like this book. Penguin sent it to me as an ARC and like my current high school students, I hate reading books that are forced on me. Why you ask, do I accept review requests if I don’t really want to read the book? Well, it’s Penguin, people. If they even know I exist, I’m quite happy to relish in that glory for a few reviews.
Plus, this book was actually really decent. Decent is the only acceptable word for a book about the financial crisis/economy/Wall Street. I’m going to be really upset if Alger decides not to write about Occupy Wall Street as her second novel. In The Darlings by Christina Alger, we see the Ponzi scheme come to life and shake up the Darling family of New York City. Don’t you just want to hate them already because they’re so “darling?” I can just see them at cocktail hour in their black tie, perfectly pointed heels, and tight-bunned hair. The girls are debutantes and have played tennis in slick white shorts for their entire upbringing. All the best riding camps, all the best boarding schools, all the best Harvard acceptance letters for the Darling girls.
And that’s when I realized that I actually really liked Merrill. But OH, how I wanted to hate her.
I did a lot of hoping to hate in this book, that actually turned into self-loathing for being the kind of person that automatically judges books and people by their covers. The cover has one sentence blurbs from Publishers Weekly, Entertainment Weekly and USA Today. I found it surprising that it was an LA Times Bestseller, but no mention of NY and the homage paid to it. I’m a stuck up cover reader. If I see a sentence in a blurb that is incredibly manufactured like, “One of the first novels about the 2008 financial crisis…Alger has what it takes, in the best sense.” I want to know what those “…” are. What are we missing that wasn’t pertinent to the back cover of this glamorous book, and yet the author in all her blown-hair glory is serious-faced on the back of the cover. She’s wearing a white button-up, looking like a Darling herself. I want the full sentence, people! I want to know what happened between “crisis” and “Alger.” What’s being hidden from me? I get the sinking feeling that USA Today didn’t give as flattering a review as they were expecting. Or what about, “Alger…knows her way around twenty-first-centruy wealth and power…a suspenseful, twisty story.” – The Wall Street Journal. A double dot, dot, dot is even worse. It’s like the other player getting a double, or dare I say a triple, in scrabble.
The Darlings is fast-paced. While I wasn’t dying to read what happens next, I did want to finish the book and I was enjoying it as I read in bed. I pushed myself through while my students were testing today and managed to get to the speedy part at the end where characters I’ve come to respect are getting thrown to the sharks because of Wall Street investors, sleazy lawyers and bad plot situations. Don’t you hate a manufactured plot where you know the good guy is going to win, but you have to read the forty pages until he actually sees that glimmer of hope?
I think Alger knows how to write a story. She changes characters chapter-by-chapter which gives you the feeling of how many people are involved in this scheme and who’s the most to blame, or the hero. It also makes the story much more snappy. It leaves a little to be desired in the characterization, but I think she still captured the essence of every person on the page. I wouldn’t be opposed to her now writing Ines story because she was the character I wanted the most out of and yet, she fell flat. I also HATED her by the end. Some of these female characters, not all, make women look like real dodos and I don’t appreciate ever looking like a dodo. I also didn’t appreciate the biblical and/or boy band names used throughout the book, but what are you going to do with the rich hedge funders of NY? Kyle just runs in the family.
I’m not going to jump off the cliff for this book, but I recommend bringing it to the beach for vacation and soaking up the rays while feeling like you’re getting a Wall Street education. Really you’re just reading a stock “rich-in-NY-epic-downfall story.” Hey, nothing’s wrong with that every once in a while.