Archive for the ‘Hernan Diaz’ Category

Trust

September 5, 2022

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 Similarly quiet and withdrawn (they are drawn together by “their mutual ability to understand the silence and empty spaces on which both of them thrived”), she, too, soon discovers that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.