Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
First-time novelist Cristina Alger knows the world of The Darlings. She grew up in Manhattan, graduated from Chapin, made her debut, went to Harvard and NYU School of Law, and has worked as both an analyst at Goldman Sachs and as a lawyer at Wilmer Hale. She is entirely familiar with the worlds of wealth and privilege that the members of the Darling family inhabit. The result is a credible, sophistsicated debut novel.
Growing up in the narrow confines of Manhattan’s Upper East Side is no picnic, as Alger writes:
Manhattan children are like armadillos: sharp clawed and thick-skinned, deceptively quck moving. They had to be. Manhattan was a Darwinian environment: only the strongest survived. The weak, the nice, the naive, the ones who smiled at passersby on the sidewalk, all got weeded out. They would come to New York for a few years after college. . . . They would feel themselves becoming impatient, jaded, cynical, rude, anxious, neurotic. They would give up. They would opt out. The ones who stayed long enough to raise children were the tough ones, the tenacious ones, the goal-oriented ones, the gold-digging ones, the deal-closing ones, the “kill or be killed” ones, the ones who subscribed to the philosophy “whatever it takes.”
It is this “whatever it takes”philosophy that infects and corrupts the predictable world of the the Darlings. Carter Darling grew up with all the right stuff minus the money that his father had squandered: “As a young man, Carter had accepted that there would always be a bigger house, a richer neighbor.” When the story opens, he is the self-made billionaire head of a profitable hedge fund who is attending a charity gala chaired by his wife Ines. It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving of 2008 and Lehmann Brothers has already collapsed and Manhattan is reeling from the resulting financial crisis — yet the gala must go on.
Ines Darling subscribes to rigid codes of etiquette:
Never leave the house without makeup; you never know who you will run into. Nice girls wear nice lingerie. Ignore the latest trend if it doesn’t suit your shape. Always send a handwritten thank-you note.
Carter, it seems, puts family, tradition, and loyalty first. The upcoming Thanksgiving festivities at the family’s Southampton home are planned to follow an undeviating script. He is devoted to his daughters — and they are devoted to him.
Everything is about to change.
The Darling family is about to find itself in the midst of the biggest financial scandal yet. Paul Ross, who is married to Carter’s daughter Merrill, has barely started working as general counsel at the family fund. He is appalled to discover that the firm is involved in a Bernie Madoff-type Ponzi scheme. Paul loves being part of the Darling family:
More than anything, Paul wanted everyone’s interests to be aligned: his wife’s his father- in-law’s, his own. He had always wanted to be one of them. Not because of the money, or the status. . . . It was their closeness he craved, their tribal clannishness. They were fiercely loyal to one another, even in times like this. Especially in times like this. . . .Family comes first. Family is unconditional.
During the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, the family finds itself pitted against zealous SEC lawyers and a team of journalists in a race against the clock to cover up — or uncover — the truth about their involvement in the scandal. Paul, in particular, must determine where his loyalties lie: to the family business, to the family, or to the truth. And he must decide whether the Darlings, in fact, really know what loyalty means.
The Darlings is the real deal: a sharply stylish thriller and a riveting portrait of a rarified and insular world that is, despite all that money can buy, shockingly vulnerable.
The Darlings is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.