July 2022

Noted

‘Trust’

By Helen Elliott
Cover of ‘Trust’
The American novelist Hernan Diaz audits the silence of great wealth in a story of four parts presented as novel, autobiography, memoir and diary

Trust (Pan Macmillan), the title of Hernan Diaz’s second novel, is a play on words: trust in the world of business, trust in what those who work in finance tell us, trust in the efficiency of power; arcane money trusts that only the powerful need and only the wealthy understand. Trust, the novel, could be called Wealth: Creation Myths. But that’s dull and there is not a dull moment in this novel.

Americans have hyper-fetishised money while remaining prudish about it to the point of not sullying speech with the word. Those who have money want it to be around them in the most useful, intimate ways, but they also want it to be invisible. Diaz takes soundings of the “silence” that indicates wealth. The wealthier one is, the quieter the atmosphere. The craziness of the outside is inaudible. Truthfully, is there anything wealth cannot buy? There are some answers via these intricate soundings in this gripping novel.

Trust comprises four documents, four different voices, four genres: novel, autobiography, memoir, diary. Most of the action takes place in the early decades of last century, the American century. The opening document, “Bonds”, is a bestselling New York novel of 1937. In excellent Edith Wharton style, it tells the story of Benjamin Rask – his “golden destiny”, money, Long Island and life between America and Europe. The destiny also includes loneliness. When he meets a brilliant, equally lonely young woman, Helen, they fall in together in unspoken but mutual recognition, and marry. Their happiness is truncated by Helen’s horrifying end in a Swiss sanitorium.

The second document is the autobiography, incomplete, of Andrew Bevel, an American tycoon in the grand manner of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, Vanderbilt et al. It is a bland narration of his childhood and his single interest, making money. There is grand comment about his financial genius, his foreseeing every sharemarket move, and how the 1929 crash was not his fault despite making him wealthier than Midas. He advised presidents and he worked hard. There is sentimental mention of his wife, Mildred, whom he seems to have admired and loved but, so sad, she died young.

The third document is called “A Memoir, Remembered”, by Ida Partenza, ostensibly written in 1986. Ida, the smart but poor daughter of an Italian anarchist father, lands a job in the 1930s writing the memoirs of Bevel. She becomes a respected journalist, and it is Ida who discovers the notebook that will become the fourth document, “Futures”, by Mildred Bevel. Mildred’s notebook, written towards the end of her own life in a Swiss sanitorium, solves a central mystery that has been consistently glimpsed from first fiction. Stay sharp.

Diaz, in the tradition of E.L. Doctorow and Kate Atkinson, has an uncanny grasp of slots of time and history, polishing both for our lazy and admiring consumption. He does this by using a lens to focus on the flightiest detail before swerving his godlike gaze to the general world, the general mess and mass. Diaz’s inquiry has severe standards, moral and practical. Despite the self-aggrandisement – despite the myth-making – business must rely on labour. In America, this means slavery. The “golden destiny” of these tycoons started right there and no matter how far into the silence a tycoon might take himself, no matter how many myths he creates, the seminal facts remain. The self-made man is a self-made myth. Diaz wrote this during the Trump years of bending reality and manufacturing “facts”. Chillingly, from inside that luxury of silence, great wealth can remake any story, any history. Follow the money. Fitzgerald, in his overrated Gatsby, wrote that the “very rich are different”. A century later, Hernan Diaz’s audit reveals further details of how and why.

Helen Elliott
Helen Elliott is a literary journalist and writer.

In This Issue

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The edge of their seats

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