Rather than be ‘the great American novel’, Hernan Diaz’s Trust seems intent on dismantling that idea and examining the pieces. Its central character, Andrew Bevel, is a stereotypical American success story, the financier with the Midas touch, an economic colossus both admired and hated. Rather than present the reader with his story, however, Diaz dismantles that, too, into four different books, each one offering a different version until it becomes clear that Bevel is not the central character at all.

Firstly, however, we meet, not Bevel, but Benjamin Rask, the protagonist of the novel Bonds by Harold Vanner. Rask’s father makes his money in tobacco, but Rask has no interest in this business quickly (and cheaply) selling it on his father’s death and investing the money in stocks. A fortuitous profit in bonds piques his interest in the market and soon he discovers a talent:

“Benjamin became adept at reading the ticker tape, finding patterns, intersecting them, and discovering hidden causal links between apparently disconnected tendencies.”

As he becomes wealthier, and better known, the idea of how he is perceived by others grows more important to him. By nature a solitary man, he joins clubs, boards, charities, associations but rarely attends:

“In the end he became a wealthy man playing the part of a wealthy man.”

Unlikely as it might seem given his character, he eventually he marries Helen Brevoort, a marriage in part arranged by Helen’s mother who first ensures that Rask’s right-hand man, Sheldon Lloyd becomes interested in Helen as a way of reaching Rask himself. Similarly quiet and withdrawn (they are drawn together by “their mutual ability to understand the silence and empty spaces on which both of them thrived”), she, too, soon discovers that “privacy requires a public façade” and devotes herself to philanthropy, particularly in the arts. When the markets crash in 1929, Rask is prepared, and, in fact, blamed by others for the crash:

“In the general desolation, amidst the rubble, Rask was the only man standing.”

Around the same time Helen becomes ill – a psychiatric condition is diagnosed and she is sent to Switzerland for treatment. Later we will discover that it this that particularly enrages Andrew Bevel, who believes the novel has been based on his life (“She – her image, her memory – won’t be desecrated”). We first meet him in the pages of the second book, My Life. It is clearly a draft rather than a published autobiography, containing as it does such unfinished sections as:

“MATH in great detail. Precocious talent. Anecdote.”

As will become clear, it represents Bevel’s intention to reclaim the story of his life and tell it as it as he wants it told in reaction to the novel:

“The imaginary events in that piece of fiction now have a stronger presence in the real world than the actual facts of my life.”

It is not, however, his own work: the third book – A Memoir, Remembered – is written by his ghost writer, Ida Partenza, who is hired to help him write his autobiography. As the work progresses it becomes evident that Bevel expects her to create a particular impression of his wife, Mildred, which goes beyond the information he provides:

“Make it homey. As a woman, you’ll do a far better job of painting that picture. I’ll review the pages once you’ve done, naturally.”

It becomes increasingly obvious that Trust is not, as it might at first appear, about the financial institutions of the United States, but about stories and how they are controlled. When Ida suggests that she might talk to some of Mildred’s friends, Bevel replies:

“I am writing this book to stop the proliferation of versions of my life, not to multiply them.”

Bevel and Ida alight on the phrase “bending and aligning reality” and Bevel will later fondly remember a story that Ida herself added to his wife’s story. Though Ida’s memoir focuses mainly on her time with Bevel, it contains a present-day section in which she visits the house, now a museum, where they worked together, in the hope of seeing his wife’s papers. And it is Mildred’s journal, entitled Futures, which is the final book of the novel. This provides a final perspective on what has gone before, allowing Mildred/Helen to speak for herself – its revelations are perhaps unsurprising for a modern reader, but ably make Diaz’s point that to trust the tale we must first trust the teller.

Trust is an engrossing and clever novel which examines storytelling not only as a tool of fiction but as a method of understanding the world, and demonstrates how easily a story can be changed to suit the story-teller, a timely warning against the dangers of entrenched views over-reliant on a single perspective.


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10 Responses to “Trust”

  1. Lisa Hill Says:

    This sounds more interesting than I had at first thought. Thanks for an enticing review.

  2. Radz Pandit Says:

    I’m reading this currently, and just finished the first section which was fascinating. Looking forward to the rest. I’ve seen mixed reviews for the book, but I was always interested because of the Wall Street angle.

  3. Janakay | YouMightAsWellRead Says:

    Great review! I read this about a week ago & liked it very much. (I’ve left comments on a couple of blogs about it) My take on the novel is rather similar to yours. Although the story works on a number of levels, I saw it primarily as a comment on who history (capital “H” here!) remembers (Andrew Bevel!) and how it does so, and who gets written out or erased (the anarchist movement of Ida’s father; Harold Vanner & Mildred herself to name just a few. Also, Ida’s a ghostwriter, at least at early in her career). As you point out, Diez makes us look at who gets to tell the story and just how false that story can be (I loved the fabrications Ida invented for Bevel’s “autobiography”).

    • 1streading Says:

      Thanks – it sounds like the novel made very similar impressions on us. You’re absolutely right, it’s not just about one man’s story but about history itself is written.

  4. JacquiWine Says:

    It’s fascinating to hear how the central them of this novel reveals itself over the course of the narrative. The fact that it’s essentially concerned with stories and how they are controlled makes it sounds very relevant to the modern world, despite the 1920s/’30s setting (for certain sections at least). And I’m glad you liked it – that’s encouraging to see!

  5. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    Great review Grant – I hadn’t really got a handle on how clever this book seems to be. Will certainly keep an eye out!

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