Tag Archives: financial ruin

I’m Looking Through You

Silver Girl: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand (Reagan Arthur Books; $26.99; 416 pages.   Hachette Audio, $19.98; 12 CDs.)

Elin Hilderbrand has placed her characters in Silver Girl on Nantucket Island in homage to its healing properties.   The island is her home which makes the depth of details and atmospheric descriptions nearly magical.   Clearly, writing well about what you know is more than just reporting what the author sees; rather, the emotional connections are more powerful when the soul of the location is translated into words.   Ms. Hilderbrand seems to refine this talent with each subsequent novel.   (A review of The Island: A Novel, a prior work, was posted on this site.)   This reviewer listened to the unabridged audio version of Silver Girl narrated by Janet Metzger and Marianne Fraulo.   Each of these women has a wide range of vocal ability which made listening to the book a delightful and satisfying experience.

In a way this novel is historical fiction, and in another it is a cautionary tale.   The Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme revelation and the subsequent meltdown of many investor fortunes provide the general premise.   Ms. Hilderbrand uses one of her writing strengths, portraying well-developed female characters, to tell a variation of the wife’s side of the scandal.   The reader cannot help but hear the Paul Harvey intonation, “And now, the rest of the story…” as the plight of Meredith Martin Delinn unfolds following the arrest of her husband, Freddy Delinn for bilking investors out of billions of dollars.

Meredith Martin was the talented, studious and obedient Main Line Philadelphia daughter whose aquatic diving and academic skills were superior.   She met and married Freddy, an ambitious student from lesser means, while on the rebound from being dumped by her first love, Toby.   Although the interactions of the characters, their motivations and the impact they have on each other are vital to the life of a story, it is the way that each of them perceives his or her choices in life that makes this story connect with the reader.

Perhaps Meredith’s blind acceptance of authority, first that of her doting parents, and subsequently that of her husband, Freddy, set her up to be collateral damage from the collapse of the pyramid scheme.   Or, maybe it was the knowledge that her actions in life required no courage or daring.   Living a role prescribed for you may be easier than creating your own; however, eventually the shallowness and dissatisfaction must emerge from under the seemingly safe exterior.   In Meredith’s case, worldwide infamy provided her the opportunity to create her own life.   For others of us it may come in the form of a soul mate who appears to lead the way to a better life.

Even if you might be tired of the Madoff story, know that this spin is well worth the read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy of the audiobook (originally priced at $34.98) was provided by the publisher.

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False Profits

Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff by Erin Arvedlund (Penguin Group; $16.00; 336 pages)

In this book, financial journalist and first-time author Erin Arvedlund systematically maps out the intricate network of relationships within the Bernard Madoff investment fiasco.   Arvedlund expended a considerable amount of time and energy in developing this book.   She realized that Madoff was full of double talk and could not be delivering the consistent returns to his investors that they thought they were earning when she interviewed him for Barron’s magazine in 2001.   The interview resulted in an article entitled, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”   In response to Arvedlund’s questions, Madoff was typically evasive; he was off-putting when she asked him how his system for investing worked.

The fact that an immense Ponzi scheme was carried out by Madoff through his near-secret advisory activities escaped all but a few of the most Wall Street-savvy auditors.   This secrecy was coupled with the attitudes of his elitist-minded millionaires – there were enough greedy and willing people to feed the pyramid and maintain its immense demand for money over several years – and how many is anyone’s guess.

This reader sends kudos to Arvedlund for her calm, balanced and well-written narrative.   It delivers facts, figures and helpful insight.   Well recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.   Note:  This trade paperback version contains a new chapter that updates events since the date of the original hardcover release.

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A Hazy Shade of Winter

So Much for That: A Novel by Lionel Shriver (Harper; $25.99; 433 pages)

“…the biggest tipoff that she was not in as much denial as she feigned was that Glynis had no interest in the future.   That left everyone pretty much stumped.   When you weren’t interested in the future you weren’t interested in the present either.   Which left the past, and she really wasn’t interested in that.”

This is a fictional tale of two American families in 2005.   They are typical, yet atypical in that they are both being worn and ground down by the twin pressures of a fiscal recession and deadly diseases.   The primary family, the Knackers, is composed of Glynis, sculptress, wife and mother and mesothelioma victim (a form of cancer that is killing her quickly); Shep, the ever dutiful husband who is a millionaire on paper; their absent college age daughter Amelia; and their clueless teenage son Zach.   Their friends, presumably Jewish, are Jackson and Carol Burdina.   Jackson is an angry co-worker of Shep’s who is insecure about being married to the ever-beautiful Carol.   They have two daughters, Flicka, who was born with Familial Dysautonomia (FD) – which will likely kill her by the time she is 30 – and Heather, their healthy overeating daughter who is growing larger by the hour.

Shep Knacker’s longtime dream is to cash in on his home improvement business in order to live what he calls The Afterlife on an island.   However, just as he sells his business for a cool $1 million, Glynis is diagnosed with the cancer that gives her a little over a year to live.   The longer Glynis lives, the more Shep’s Merrill Lynch account will be drawn down.   Shep quickly learns that a million dollars does not last long in a world where an aspirin costs $300 and a regimen of chemotherapy goes for $30,000.

“That had been one revelation, insofar as there was any: everything was equal.   There were no big things and little things anymore.   Aside from pain, which had assumed an elevated position… all matters were of the same importance.   So there was no longer any such thing as importance.”

One of the ironies of this tale is that while 51-year-old Glynis fights to hang on to life to the point where she becomes a near madwoman, young Flicka looks forward to the day – at 18 – when she can end her own.   And while they trouble themselves with such basic issues, Jackson becomes obsessed with penis enlargement surgery – something he presumes will please his attractive spouse.

“(It was) a world where oblivion was nirvana, where one was never allowed the hope of no pain but only of less.”

Glynis eventually becomes angry as her supposed friends either treat her like a woman already dead, or fail to follow through on their original promises to be there for her when the going gets rough.   Yet, she stubbornly refuses to ever accept a fatal diagnosis, even while undergoing a year-long regimen of toxic chemo.   She begins to view herself as a marathon runner who never seems to be able to complete the 26th and final mile.

Shep is a man who has prided himself on being responsible his entire life.   He’s the man who has always paid his own way and played by the rules.   But others tell him that he’s a responsible taxpaying sucker especially when Medicaid won’t buy Glynis even a single aspirin for her pain.   He’s not sure what to do until, surprisingly, his ever raging and thought-to-be-dense friend Jackson sends him a message.

This is a work about human values and morals in the face of impending financial ruin and death.   What would we do – any of us – in order to keep our health and our homes for an extra day, week, month or year?   In this weighty and timely fictional tale you will find an answer.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.   So Much for That is also available as an unabridged audio book and as a Kindle Edition download.

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