The Hazards of Good Fortune by Seth Greenland: A twenty-first century Bonfire of the Vanities

Cover imageA few years ago, I reviewed Seth Greenland’s I Regret Everything, a smartly witty love story which I enjoyed very much. I’d intended to track down the rest of Greenland’s novels but somehow never got around to it so when The Hazards of Good Fortune popped up in Europa Editions’ catalogue I jumped at it despite its doorstopping 600+ pages. Greenland’s novel is the story of Jay Gladstone, a fabulously wealthy man whose staunch belief in his own integrity leaves him primed for a fall.

Jay is the head of the corporation his realtor father set up. The family business has property throughout New York City but its influence has expanded far beyond the expectations of the son of a Jewish refugee plumber. A proud liberal, Jay is a respected philanthropist. He’s played golf with the President and has plans for a legacy which will tower over Brooklyn but his dearest love is his basketball team whose star player is not quite delivering the goods. There are other troubles in paradise: Jay’s cousin may well be cooking the books; his daughter ignores his texts and his wife of five years seems a little too fond of a drink. Nevertheless, when Jay takes off for South Africa to check on the eco-development he hopes to expand, all seems set for a continuation of his glittering life. When business concludes early, he boards the plane reconsidering his decision not to have the child Nicole seems suddenly so desperate to bear and arrives home planning to tell her so. What he finds will lead to a catastrophic downturn in his fortunes involving an ambitious District Attorney, a frustrated activist and a media who smell blood.

Beginning in 2012, just a few weeks after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, The Hazards of Good Fortune explores racism within the framework of Jay Gladstone’s story with a pleasing satirical edge. Christine Lupo weighs the indictment of a policeman for the shooting of a disturbed black man against Jay’s case in terms of political traction. Black anti-Semitism is put under the microscope at an excruciating Passover to which Jay’s daughter has brought her black activist girlfriend. Jay prides himself in his relationship with his coach and players then discovers he has no black friends. Swipes are taken at the media, social and otherwise, eager to celebrate the downfall of a man who has so publicly prided himself in his integrity but who falls into desperate legal and moral straits. Garland is careful to avoid caricature with Jay, painting him as essentially a good man but one whose self-belief blinds him to reality. All of this is wrapped up in a story which bowls along nicely if rather wordily: there were a few too many long contextualising descriptions for my taste. Tom Wolfe’s potboiler Bonfire of the Vanities came to mind a few chapters in but despite its bagginess The Hazards of Good Fortune is very much better than that.

10 thoughts on “The Hazards of Good Fortune by Seth Greenland: A twenty-first century Bonfire of the Vanities

    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Me, neither, Marina. Far too much fuss made about it. I’m not sure I would have committed to so many pages had I not read Garland before but it was worth it, and an easy read.

      Reply
  1. buriedinprint

    This sounds fantastic. And now that you’ve mentioned the abundance of contexualizing descriptions and I’m expecting them, they will probably feel just fine. I’m so glad that I’m over my fear of the chunky novel again.

    Reply
      1. buriedinprint

        That would make a nice bookend for Elizabeth Arthur’s Antarctic Navigation, which I’m reading now (everyone always gets it wrong when she talks about where she wants to go and assumes it’s the Arctic), also a chunkster. Plus, I did enjoy Stef Penney’s first book. Very atmospheric.

        Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      If you can cope with a bit of bagginess (I’m sure I could have cut 50 pages of that) it’s a good read. Sharply funny at times and immersive which is what you want from that kind of book.

      Reply

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