The Altruists by Andrew Ridker
Andrew Ridker does a great job of establishing that his central characters are bastards but seems unsure of what to do with them after that
The modern American canon is not short on books about reprehensible people. To keep the reader spending time with these awful people, to hold them page after page, the book has to show an awareness of their awfulness. It can use this awareness to aim a satirical eye at elements of contemporary culture or offer a more Hollywood-friendly tale of redemption, painting grizzly portraits in the beginning so we can enjoy the characters’ moral makeover in the story’s final act. Whichever way it decides to go, this awareness is key. Otherwise it’s just a few hundred pages of people being shitty.
Ridker’s The Altruists is split between failed academic Arthur Alter and his two adult offspring, the pious, hypocritical Maggie and the passive, apathetic Ethan. Arthur himself is viciously self-involved, kicking the novel’s plot into action by inviting his estranged children back to the family home under false pretences and with odious intentions. The novel is an easy read thanks to Ridker’s eloquent (though sometimes self-consciously verbose) style and smooth pacing, but it never fully picks a direction to go in.
It flirts with ideas about traumas and the paradox of altruism rooted in self-esteem but never digs fully into any of them. Ridker does a great job of establishing that his central characters are bastards but seems unsure of what to do with them after that.