Saturday, January 02, 2010

Adam Haslett, Union Atlantic

Decade's First Masterpiece
Adam Haslett began as a short story writer, a fact very much in evidence in this, his first novel. Clocking in at 304 pages, Union Atlantic will give no one eyestrain, with generous line spacing and margins. A cheaper publisher would have crammed the whole thing into 200 pages and saved money on paper.

So this is a novel, but it is not a long one. Which makes Haslett's achievement all the more remarkable, for Union Atlantic is positively symphonic in its ambitions. It contains the world! Rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, high finance and common drudgery, war and peace, young and old and in-between. Two well-drawn main characters--next-door neighbors embroiled in a battle over, at root, the tearing down of trees--lead us out into a whole host of others, each given subtle shadings and motivations that ring true. A bank--and the entire financial system!--teeter quietly on the brink of oblivion, as do an old woman's sanity, a young man's sexuality, and an in-between man's understanding of why he is who he is.

Never preachy, never ripped-from-the-headlines, Union Atlantic still, somehow, captures a precise moment in time and preserves it. The run-up to yet another Middle East war, the crashing-down of the regulatory apparatus and near ruin of the economic system, the brand-new giant houses devoid of furniture or feeling--these give the novel heft even as its persuasive characters give it heart.

By chronicling, so concisely and yet so thoroughly, the perils and plagues and passions of the century's first decade, Haslett has crafted the first literary masterpiece of its second.

This is an Amazon Vine review, available here.

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