Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Altruists

The Altruists by Andrew Ridker
Penguin Random House: 3/5/19
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525522713 

The Altruists by Andrew Ridker is a very highly recommended debut novel about a dysfunctional family struggling after the death of their wife and mother.

Arthur Alter relocated his family, wife Francine and children Ethan and Maggie, from Boston to St. Louis after accepting the non-tenured position of engineering professor at Danforth University in St. Louis. While he was sure he would eventually become a tenured professor, it never happened. Francine is the person who keeps the family together and it is her income, as a family and couples therapist, that helps supports the family and pay for the mortgage on the large house Arthur wanted.
Francine died from cancer two years earlier and left her children a large inheritance - money Arthur knew nothing about. Ethan and Maggie are still reeling from the death of their mother and haven't seen their father since. Arthur started an affair with a much younger professor while Francine was dying, an affair Francine, Ethan, and Maggie all knew about. Now Ethan and Maggie are both currently living in New York City. Maggie is a recent college graduate. She is striving to do good things for her neighbors and lives a life of self-imposed poverty, to the point of starving herself. Ethan, 31, left his consulting job, is a recluse and was living off his inheritance, but is now deep in debt. His father never understood him.
Now, after not talking to his children for two years, Arthur, 65, has a scheme he needs to put into action that involves the help of his children. Arthur is going to lose the house to foreclosure because he can't afford the mortgage, but if he can get his children to use their inheritance to pay off the mortgage, then he and his girlfriend can move into the house. To put his plan into action, he writes to Ethan and Maggie, inviting them to come home for a visit, but his ploy doesn't go exactly as he planned.
These are all memorable characters and readers will become well-acquainted with Francine, Arthur, Ethan, and Maggie. Francine is clearly the glue that holds this novel (and family) together. Without her, everyone is self-involved and clueless. There are moments where their actions or Arthur's obvious schemes to play on sentiments are so off-the-mark or awkward, that it is both humorous and yet poignant. Ridker succeeds in presenting the narrative with wit, compassion, insight, and depth, making these flawed characters human.

The Altruists is an exceptionally well-written family saga. This outstanding, complex, and compelling novel is a page-turner that will hold your attention throughout. Both the quality of the writing and the character development are excellent, resulting in a intricate, dynamic, insightful, and perceptive debut novel. Chapters presents everyone's point-of-view, including Francine's, and include flashbacks and the backstory of the four family members.This novel is a pleasure to read and makes Ridker a novelist to watch.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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