By Stacey D’Erasmo; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
Suzanne Flaherty, 49, is shocked when her husband Alan tells her that he’s going to be indicted for financial fraud within the week.
She claims the last time they talked about his work he’d said he was in currencies and exchange rates. “It’s just math. How can you be in trouble for math?” he’d told her.
Now, he insists that she knew it had gone past that; he reminds her of the “kerfluffle” with SEC that didn’t stick, the trades he’d faked for a client and how he’d told her it was so easy even she could have done it on a computer.
“How should I know? I don’t know anything about money,” Suzanne insists. “The numbers, or whatever you were doing — we’re not like that. I’m not like that. . . you’re saying I was some sort of accomplice. But that’s ridiculous.”
Alan is convicted for his Bernie Madoff-like crimes and sent to prison. Suzanne continues to insist it had nothing to do with her as her world collapses. The fancy house is sold. Jane moves to a small coastal town, sells her fancy car for a knocked about second-hand one and tries to find away to make a living.
She is strangely unsympathetic to the victims of Alan’s crimes, even when some are neighbors or elderly people about to be forced out of nursing homes. On the one hand, she sees many of them as rich people upset about not being richer; on the other, she realizes that restitution will never repay the victims for what they have lost.
“What is restitution? A numerical impossibility. An ideal. A failure already, legally. What is real restitution? I don’t know. And, anyway, it wasn’t my fault. Hadn’t I already paid with everything I thought was my life?,” Suzanne asks readers.
Author Stacey D’Erasmo raises prickling questions about complicity and accountability. In the context of climate change, pollution and politics, the issues are particularly pointed. Should we feel guilty about using plastic Keurig pods? Should we stop driving and take public transportation or go vegan to reduce climate change?
When a whale beaches itself near where Suzanne lives, she becomes totally absorbed in the tragedy. She volunteers to support the trained workers trying to keep the whale alive until it can be pushed back into the ocean. When it drifts back and dies on the beach, she returns again and again to see its decaying carcass.
Refusing to take calls from her ex-husband from prison or to cooperate when his attorney pleads with her to return funds that were signed over to her prior to Alan’s indictment, she decides to make a grand anonymous philanthropic contribution to the organization that tried to save the whale. She rationalizes that the ill-gotten assets are going to a good cause.
She sets in motion events that encompass her ex-husband, their son Noah, Alan’s new wife and baby and his estranged mother who is seeking a reunion.
D’Erasmo has created a haunting tragedy, offering finely sliced moral issues and challenging questions of accountability. The issues she raises linger long after you’ve read the last words. Suzanne is both easy to identify with and oblivious to her own role in events.
“I mean, look: sure, you can call me complicit, but there’s complicit and complicit, isn’t there? It isn’t only one thing, one label that explains everything in every situation,” Suzanne says. “There isn’t complicity but complicities, errors of different sizes, plus there are other factors, choices that in hindsight maybe weren’t right, but in the moment it seemed different.”
The Author: Stacey D’Erasmo (1961 – )
Stacey D’Erasmo has written five acclaimed novels and a book of nonfiction, THE ART OF INTIMACY: THE SPACE BETWEEN.
Her first novel, TEA, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. Her second, A SEAHORSE YEAR, was named a Best Book of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle and Newsday and won both a Lambda Literary Award and a Ferro-Grumley Award. Her fourth novel WONDERLAND, was named one of the 10 best books of 2014 by Time and the BBC and among the best books of the year by NPR.
Her articles and podcasts have been published in The New York Times Book Review, New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, Interview, The New Yorker and the Los Angeles Times.
She is frequently a faculty member at the Breadloaf Writers Conference; was a Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford University; received a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship in Fiction and was the 2010-11 Sovern/Columbia Affiliated Fellow at the American Academy in Rome.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and a master’s in English and American literature from New York University. She was a senior editor at The Village Voice Literary Supplement from 1988 to 1995.
She currently is an associate professor of writing and publishing practices at Fordham University in New York City.
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