Tag Archives: Seth Greenland

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.

Books to Look Out for in August 2018: Part Two

Cover imageIn contrast to the first batch, this selection of August titles has its feet planted firmly in the US. Anna Quindlen’s Alternate Side is set in New York City where Nora and her husband live happily until a terrible incident takes place, shaking Nora’s confidence and dividing the neighbourhood. ‘With an unerring and acute eye that captures beautifully the snap and crackle of modern life, Anna Quindlen explores what it means to be a mother, a wife and a woman at a moment of reckoning’ according to the blurb. Quindlen has always seemed somewhat underrated here in the UK.

I very much enjoyed Seth Greenland’s I Regret Everything a few years back so have hopes for The Hazards of Good Fortune. Set during the Obama presidency, it’s about a wealthy philanthropist who tries to lead a moral life but finds himself entangled in a prosecution which will have dramatic consequences in terms of race and privilege. ‘At times shocking, but always recognizable, this captivating tale explores the aftermath of unforgivable errors and the unpredictability of the court of public opinion. With a brilliant eye for character, Greenland creates a story that mixes biting humor with uncomfortable truth’ say the publishers.

I’ve never got around to reading Sergio de la Pava’s A Naked Singularity, daunted by its door-Cover imagestopping size, but that hasn’t stopped Lost Empress catching my eye. Nina Gill is taken aback when her brother inherits the football team she’s quietly been keeping afloat. Meanwhile, Nono DeAngeles is setting about an audacious crime having deliberately got himself banged up in Rikers Prison.Without knowing it, or ever having met, Nina and Nuno have already had a profound effect on each other’s lives. As his bid for freedom and her bid for sporting immortality reach crisis point, their stories converge in the countdown to an epic conclusion’ say the publishers which sounds intriguing although it’s another doorstopper.

Cherise Wolas’ The Family Tabor sounds a little more straightforward. Harry Tabor is about to be honoured as Man of the Decade in recognition of his work with the many Jewish refugees he’s helped to settle in America. Years ago, Harry uprooted his own family taking them across the States from Connecticut to the South West. ‘Wolas examines the five members of the Tabor family as they prepare to celebrate Harry. Through each of their points of view, we see family members whose lives are built on lies, both to themselves and to others, and how these all come crashing down during a seventy-two-hour period’ according to the blurb which sounds highly entertaining.

J M Holmes’ How Are You Going to Save Yourself is about four young men who’ve grown up together but have drifted apart in adulthood as they try to cope with society’s expectations, family pressures and their own self-images. Described as ‘both humorous and heart-breaking’ it’s ‘a timely debut about sex, race, family and friendship’, apparently which sounds good to me.

Cover imageMy last choice for August is from the author of a book I enjoyed very much: Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan all about black American jazz musicians in 1940s Europe. Washington Black sounds very different. The eponymous eleven-year-old is chosen as a personal servant to one of the brothers who have taken over a Barbados sugar plantation, a man obsessed with the idea of flying which results in disaster for him. ‘From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life’ according to the blurb. That jacket alone should win a prize.

That’s it for August’s new novels. A click on any that have caught your eye will take you to a more detailed synopsis, and If you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks shortly…

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.