Ridker, Andrew. “The Altruists: A Novel”, Viking, 2018.
Andrew Ridker gives us a look at a father’s plot to win back his children’s inheritance. We meet Arthur Alter, a professor at a Missouri college who is having something of a rough time. He cannot pay his mortgage payments, his kids refuse to speak to him and his young girlfriend is exasperated by his treatment. His wife, Francine, who recently left this world had kept a secret sum of money that she willed to their children, Ethan, an anxious recluse who is living off his mother’s money that bought him a choice plot of Brooklyn real estate; and Maggie, a would-be do-gooder who is living a life of self-imposed poverty. Arthur is on the verge of losing the family home and so he invites his children back to St. Louis telling them that he is ready for a reconciliation. What he does not realize is that this “reconciliation” will bring back old resentments and long-buried memories of Francine, his wife and the matriarch whose life may just be the key to keeping them together.
This is a family saga filled with dark humor and wonderful characters. The many themes include money, privilege, politics, campus culture, dating, talk therapy, rural sanitation, infidelity, kink, the American beer industry, and what it means to be a “good person.” (Obviously there is something here for everyone).
Ridker looks at “the absurdities and contradictions of 21st century America” while at the same time giving us a story about a family pulled apart by loss of the mother and how they find their way back together. I believe that it is impossible not to care for the characters.
Quite basically, this is the story of a dysfunctional family that is dealing with the loss of a parent and what is so amazing I that even though Francine is dead, she is an important character here. Arthur had never been a good husband or father probably because he cared too much about himself. With his wife’s death, he becomes even more of a narcissist and he finds a girlfriend who replaces Francine since he is unable to live without someone to take care of him and to keep him company.
Father and children come together in a dramatic scene that allows the three of them to find closure and be able to move forward. We see how the family deals with death within their own personalities.
The novel is beautifully written and I was totally captivated by the author’s debut fiction. You may have noted that I have not said much about the plot and that is because I really want all of you to enjoy this book and with no spoilers.