History itself is just a fiction—a fiction with an army. And reality? Reality is a fiction with an unlimited budget. (From TRUST, a novel by Hernan Diaz)
Hernan Diaz’s latest novel is about bonds, both financial and human, life and death, memories and futures offered in four subtly connecting separate parts. It’s about “the incestuous genealogies of money—capital begetting capital begetting capital,” about how fictional narratives can reshape the world, and about how women too often marginalized in the financial world could dominate it behind the scenes (something that has been verified by modern behavioral finance research into the trading patterns of men and women). What better time to read this book full of unexpected turns than now when politics and financial markets are in such disarray?
The novel is best understood on its own without spoilers even though it is full of twists that will send you back to the inevitable dogears you will create, a word the author uses affectionately. If a path for the novel is desired, suffice it to say that the first part is the fictional account of a Wall Street tycoon by a fictional author (Harold Vanner) that the tycoon dislikes, the second part is an unfinished attempt by the tycoon (Andrew Bevel) to bend the narrative more to his liking, the third part is a memoir by a woman (Ida Partenza) the tycoon hires to write his narrative and the final section consists of diary fragments from the tycoon’s deceased wife (Mildred). It’s a little confusing but manageable and entertaining once you get the hang of it. Equally entertaining is the humor Diaz inserts throughout the novel. Be sure to look for it. One example is Ida Partenza speaking of her early attempts at writing:
My first book, a collection of short stories, was published when I was nine years old. One of the stories was about a conspiracy of fish and their failed plans to depose humanity and take over dry land. The unhappy hero of another tale was a girl who died in parts, limb by limb, until she was reduced to an eye. There was also a story of a nine-year-old who lived at the top of a mountain alone with her father, a jewel thief whom the girl broke out of jail again and again.
Something Think in the Morning enjoys is mining interesting asides scattered throughout a novel. Here are a few from TRUST.
(on the nature of music)
This music creates an unavoidable future for itself. It has no free will.
(on hurt, pain and suffering)
Who is “I” in “I hurt”? The one who inflicts the pain or the one who suffers it? And does “hurt”refer to the inflicting or the suffering?
(on poor taste)
Kitsch is always a form of inverted Platonism, prizing imitation over archetype.
(on speaking for yourself)
Where there’s a ventriloquist, there’s a dummy.
(on God as an explanation)
God is the most uninteresting answer to the most interesting questions.
Short selling is folding back time. The past making itself present in the future.
(on losing a fortune)
It had taken three generations of failed politicians and novelists to reduce them to a state of dignified precariousness.
(on authors and their work)
She was particularly interested in living authors, although she initially refused to meet them, knowing the distance between the work and the person could be covered only by disappointment.
(on the future)
The future irrupts at all times, wanting to actualize itself in every decision we make; it tries, as hard as it can, to become the past.
And what is choice but a branch of the future grafting itself onto the stem of the present?
(to protest too much)
Denial is always a form of confirmation.
(the burden of philanthropy)
It is hard work to give money away.
(caricature of women)
Women represented only 1.5 per cent of the dilettantish speculators at the beginning of the decade. At the end they neared 40 per cent. Could there have been a clearer indicator of the disaster to come?
the closer one is to a source of power, the quieter it gets.
(on creating one’s own reality)
“Bending and aligning reality.” At the time, I was not entirely sure if the phrase applied to this situation. But I did know that most men enjoy hearing themselves quoted.
Chaos is a vortex that spins faster with each thing it swallows.
Diaz says that we seldom see money being made in novels. Mostly it’s just there. And, those who write about money, even if they hold critical opinions of extreme wealth, often becomes victims of their own bedazzlement.
Our canon is saturated with stories concerned with class and conspicuous consumption, with the corseted manners or the unbridled eccentricities that come with affluence. But few novels, like Bonds, dwell on the actual process of the accumulation of capital. And even those narratives that attempt a critique of affluence and inequality almost always end up dazzled by the ostentatious greed they set out to demystify—a pitfall Mr. Vanner deftly avoids.(Ida Partenza)
The counter example to the tycoon (Andrew Bevel) in TRUST is Ida Partenza’s father (unnamed) who is an Italian anarchist. He is the anti-capitalist to the capitalist tycoon.
But remember: money is a fiction; commodities in a purely fantastic form, yes? And this is doubly true for finance capital. Stocks, shares, bonds. Do you think any of these things those bandits across the river buy and sell represent any real, concrete value? No. No, they don’t. Stocks, shares and all that garbage are just claims to future value. So if money is fiction, finance capital is the fiction of a fiction. That’s what all those criminals trade in: fictions.”(Ida Partenza’s father)
At one point when Andrew Bevel is lamenting being blamed for the 1929 Crash in the stock market, he makes a comment worthy of the famous economist Milton Friedman:
People want a culprit and a villain. And there is, in fact, a culprit and a villain: the Federal Reserve Board.”
Think in the Morning very much enjoyed this novel. It checks many of our boxes-financial history, mathematics, economics and more. Even if Andrew Bevel plays the role of makeshift villain, he has his prescient moments:
No enterprise can fully succeed without a true understanding of human behavior.
Unfortunately he had the fatal flaw,like so many of his class and times, of ignoring or discounting his own advice when it counted most.