Premise: When Paul Ross loses his job, it is a no-brainer to go work for his father-in-law, Carter Darling, as general counsel for his hedge fund. Paul’s marriage to Merrill has been one of privilege now that he is a part of the Darling family, whose lavish parties and weekends in the Hamptons have become common practice. However, in the midst of the 2008 market crash, all eyes are on the financial industry and Paul might have found himself put in a dangerous place right in the middle of it.
When a tragedy hits the Carter family and one of Delphic’s funds is under suspicion, the Carter family comes together. Paul is thankful to be one of the family, and his first inclination is to defend Carter and the company. When suspicion is pointed to Paul after only working at Delphic for a couple months, he must decide between going out of his way to clear his own name or be willing to protect his family in spite of what he knows to be right.
Themes: Family loyalty is probably the most prevalent and obvious theme in The Darlings. In the middle of Ponzi schemes and media outcry, what will a family do to protect those they love, even if it means putting out their own neck for them? This might also ultimately mean covering up indiscretions and put protecting family over telling the truth.
The Darlings also makes the reader consider the dangers of the pursuit of riches. In the middle of Wall Street scandal, riches were made at the expense of many others, and those riches can be so quickly taken away if ill-gotten or unwisely spent. Even with so many possessions, morals seem to be more easily thrown aside for the sake of keeping a lavish lifestyle.
Pros: If making every character unlikeable was the goal, Alger succeeds in The Darlings. She does a good job of laying out the lives of the New York elite, and the financial and legal lingo are accurate as far as my knowledge of those two worlds goes. The story takes place in about a week, which helps to keep the pace quicker. The writing is good, especially as it paints the setting and characters with great detail.
Cons: I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to like or dislike since I ended up disliking every character. Perhaps it is because they all come off as pretentious rich people, which is ultimately what they are even for those who lose everything. With characters talking about living in Manhattan and their homes in the Hamptons, and then how living in the suburbs is so terrible, it is difficult to feel sorry for any of them, including those we are supposed to like. I believe the word is “clueless” as to their knowledge how most people in the country live. Hating every character doesn’t make me like the book more; quite the opposite.
Recommendations: I don’t normally read fiction like The Darlings, but it ended up being more interesting than I expected. Though it lacks real punch in the way of action, there is enough intrigue here to form a thriller out of the boring setting of the 2008 financial crisis. With a more likeable protagonist I think The Darlings could have possibly succeeded even more, though it might have made it blend in with all the other underdog attorney novels caught in a power struggle like most John Grisham legal novels. Those with a legal or financial background might take to The Darlings more readily. If anything, reading The Darlings might make you more thankful for what family and possessions you have or realize the pursuit of those things only makes the fall from grace that much greater. The Darlings is a solid debut novel from Cristina Alger. I only hope her next book will have at least one character that isn’t a wealthy, pretentious jerk.