Tag Archives: I Regret Everything

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.

I Regret Everything by Seth Greenland: A love story

Cover imageI was surprised to find Seth Greenland’s novel on the Europa Editions list. They’re the publishers responsible for publishing the Elena Ferrante novels which took the literati Twitterati by storm last year and it’s still raging, although rhapsodising would be a better word. I’d associated them with fiction in translation but I see that at least one of Greenland’s previous novels is also on their list. He was once a screenwriter for HBO and it was that, and the withered red rose on its cover suggesting a particular kind of love story, which made me want to read it. It’s the story of Jeremy Best, a thirty-three-year-old lawyer who moonlights as a poet, and Spaulding Simonson, the nineteen-year-old daughter of his boss, who’s looking for a patron in the arts.

Jeremy specialises in preparing wealthy clients’ wills. He’s become an expert over the past five years, entertaining hopes of becoming a partner. He’s also a published poet in a small way, hiding his work behind a pseudonym, carefully keeping it under wraps from both colleagues and clients. The day that Spaulding appears in his doorway, he’s a little preoccupied, still disturbed from a vivid nightmare and a little disconcerted by the lump he found when showering. Spaulding, attractive and a little flirtatious – ‘a perfectly designed temptation’ – could well spell trouble but Jeremy’s learned to compartmentalise his life, including his emotions. Spaulding, however, is not there to offer temptation. She’s done her research, knows that Jeremy is also Jinx Bell and wants to get to know someone who may be able to guide her into the poetry world. Still medicated after a spell in a mental hospital, Spaulding seems at first to be the typical product of rich, several times divorced parents but such quick judgement would be a mistake. Mismatched as they are, these two are the subject of Greenland’s witty love story, told in Jeremy and Spaulding’s alternating narratives.

The stratospherically rich aren’t usually my cup of tea – in fiction or otherwise – and although Jeremy and Spaulding aren’t in that league they’re undeniably both privileged and moneyed. Jeremy is the son of a gay lawyer whose portrait by Andy Warhol he’s inherited; Spaulding, although constantly told she needs a plan by her father, manages perfectly well without a job. Such is Greenland’s skill with characterisation that as their story develops so do their characters until our sympathies are fully engaged. Spaulding and Jeremy’s misconceptions about each other are handled expertly in their separate narratives and Greenland has a knack for a well turned phrase. It’s very funny in places but what begins as a light comedy acquires a dark edge giving it a bite which lifts it well above the sentimental. Time to check out those other Greenland novels, I think.