Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Union Atlantic"

Adam Haslett is the author of You Are Not A Stranger Here, a short story collection, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, and won the PEN/Winship Award. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Zoetrope, and Best American Short Stories as well as National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Union Atlantic, and reported the following:
"One more piece of bad news and the invisible architecture of confidence might have buckled. About this Holland was right. Henry was paid to worry so the average citizen didn't have to."

As it happens, page 69 does offer a window into one of the main themes of Union Atlantic--the precariousness of our economic system and the fallible, human relationships that do (or don't) keep it afloat. Here Henry Graves, who is president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York--the job Tim Geithner had before be became Secretary of the Treasury--is remembering, as only he can, how close to collapse the financial system came immediately after 9/11. It's two-thirty in the morning and he's on the phone with Jeffery Holland, the CEO of Union Atlantic. Henry has just prodded Holland to make a concession to a rival bank in order to keep the credit markets functioning smoothly. Henry, then, is the government official "paid to worry so the average citizen didn't have to."

I first decided to set a character in the New York Fed ten years ago. The institution interested me as a symbol of the ubiquitous but anonymous bureaucratic power that effects so much of our daily life but which remains even now, after the financial crisis, obscure to most people. A quote of Norman Mailer's to the effect that post-war American fiction had taught us more about the little guy than about the minds of the powerful had always stuck with me and as a novelist I wanted to go into those minds and see what the world would look like to someone who was responsible for overseeing not just one company but the entire financial system. As it turned out, I finished the novel in September of 2008, the week that Lehman Brothers collapsed. While the book is not about an actual collapse, it is very much about the conditions--both financial and cultural--that led up to that moment. When I was done, it was uncanny to read in the news descriptions of meetings versions of which I had dramatized two, three, sometimes four years earlier.

To be sure, my book is about more than banking. It's about human solitude, the decay of American liberalism, the poison of anger, boyhood grief and confusion, and other things besides. But to the extent that page 69 gets at the hidden, secretive world of the interaction between government and financial elites, it certainly exemplifies one of the novel's central interests.
Read an excerpt from Union Atlantic, and learn more about the book and author at Adam Haslett's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue