The Grinding Wheels of 21st Century Commerce

Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett.

To some, Doug Fanning would seem to have it all, yet he is damaged goods. His traumatic childhood and experiences in the Gulf War have left him emotionally stunted. Post 9/11, he seemingly lives for his job as a high-powered investment banker, caring for nothing and no-one, and he takes risks – big ones.

Charlotte Graves used to be a teacher, now retired she moulders in her ageing home in the New England countryside with just her two dogs for company.  She keeps her mental cogs going with occasional tutoring in history; Nate, a confused teenager, is the current recipient of her wisdom.

Fanning is now in that dangerous mid-life crisis period of his life and having grown up in a poor village, builds his dream house in the posh one up the road where his mother had cleaned houses.  Unfortunately it’s next door to Charlotte, and on land that used to belong to her father and she thinks she still owns.   He’s now battling on two fronts – home and work, as it’s all going pear-shaped hedging on the Nikkei.

We despise Fanning for the mess(es) he gets into, and it’s pity rather than sympathy that he engenders as we gradually find out what makes this hollow man tick. As for young Nate – get a grip man!  Charlotte is not an easy woman to like, but we can sympathise with her predicament – a brilliant mind edging into decline – her financial bigwig brother Henry would like to get her into a home, but he is humouring her in her courtcase over the land rights with Fanning:

Sauntering drowsily in from the living room, the Doberman rested his head in Charlotte’s lap, and Henry watched his sister pat him gently on the head.
“You know it’s funny, ” she said. “All weekend, I’ve tried to convince Wilkie here that you’re a good sport but he won’t believe me, will you Wilkie? He’s convinced you’re a member of the Klan.”

As evidenced above, the book is not without humour.  Haslett’s style though is very dry and observational, the characters tend to describe rather than feel their own emotions, so you can strongly visualise the scenes; particularly those involving Doug where you’re almost a bystander.  I felt that the plot suffered slightly from the interlocking coincidences that coalesce the stories of the characters together, but this is a timely novel, reminding us of how we got to the state we’re now in both at home and abroad. 
Tuskar Rock Press – Hardback, 304pp.  I chose this book from a list supplied by Amazon Vine. (7/10)

For another review visit Just Williams Luck.

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Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett.

0 thoughts on “The Grinding Wheels of 21st Century Commerce

  1. savidgereads says:

    I read this recently but havent been able to blog about it yet, will say no more think thats a big enough hint hahaha, but I will say it did nothing for me, it seemed to want to do a lot and therefore not if that makes sense (this was only my opinion) and I got really, really bored.

    Glad you liked it and that its getting a nice following though.

    • gaskella says:

      Nuff said! On more reflection, I feel it was slightly hollow and there was a wheels keep turning feel to it – certainly with regard to Doug.

  2. William Rycroft says:

    Interesting to read your thoughts Annabel and thank you for linking through to me (although the link seems to be to a page that doesn’t exist so here’s the url for my own review :

    I’m going to stick by my thoughts on this one, I really think Haslett is a writer of immense gifts and thought there was lots to get your teeth into with this book. I know exactly what you mean by the convenient coincidences, someone else mentioned that as well, but that weakness aside I really appreciated the ambition of this novel and have been slightly disappointed to see it fall a little flat.

    If you have the stomach for more Haslett I heartily recommend his story collection, ‘You Are Not A Stranger Here’ – (

  3. gaskella says:

    I tried to link to your actual review directly, but thanks for the correct link.

    I did enjoy the bits with Charlotte, it was Doug’s side I didn’t like so much – apart from the financial explanations, I was annoyed by his outcome (trying to be spoiler free!).

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