Beginning in the 20th century, writers began experimenting more often with alternative narrative structures in their novels. Early examples of this sort of novel are James Joyce's "Ulysses" and "Finnegan's Wake" or Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury". Structure can be another tool for an author to convey meaning.
In his new Pulitzer Prize winning novel, "Trust", Hernan Diaz employes an unusual four-part structure to tell the story of Andrew Bevel and his wife Mildred from four different points of view and in four stylistic genres: fiction, autobiography, memoir, diary. Part I called "Bonds" is a fictional story of a Wall Street financier named Benjamin Rask who makes a fortune during the financial boom of the early 1900's and during the Stock market crash of 1929. It follows Rask's life until the death of his wife Helen in a Swiss sanatorium. Part II, called "My Life", written by a financier named Andrew Bevel appears to be a half-written manuscript of his autobiography detailing his financial successes in the early 20th century and the death of his beloved wife Mildred. Part III entitled "A Memoir, Remembered" is written in the current day by the author Ida Partenza who as a young woman was hired to be the ghost writer for Andrew Bevel's autobiography. Part IV by Mildred Bevel consists of excerpts from her diary in the last weeks of her life. Each part adds another layer of complexity to the portrait of the Bevels and the world of privilege they inhabit.
Andrew Bevel is not a particularly likeable character, and the structure of the novel can feel disjointed and confusing at first. And yet the story becomes surprisingly mesmerizing as it becomes clear that the mysterious heart of the story is Bevel's deceased wife Mildred. Who was Mildred and what role did she play in the life and success of Andrew? Everyone's version of Mildred is slightly different. In some ways she is the most interesting character in the book and yet she is a blank.
"Trust" questions how we discern Truth. In our age of "fake news", this is not an academic question. What, if any, are trustworthy sources of information? Diaz warns that the power of great wealth can distort reality in ways we may never be aware of. As one character says, "History itself is just a fiction---a fiction with an army. And reality? Reality is a fiction with an unlimited budget. That's what it is. And how is reality funded? With yet another fiction: money. Money is at the core of it all." Diaz raises questions about the dangers of capitalism but without settling for easy answers. Andrew Bevel's antithesis in the novel is Ida's father, an Italian immigrant anarchist. Neither man is a happy, well adjusted, functioning member of society. Both are solitary and self-absorbed.
"Trust" is a great book club read with lots to discuss. For those whose summer reading lists include catching up on thought provoking literary fiction in addition to the more typical beach reads, I recommend you give this one a try. Hernan Diaz is a young writer that I can guarantee we will be hearing more from in the future.