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Union Atlantic: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 9, 2010


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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1 edition (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385524471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385524476
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #862,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Q&A with Adam Haslett

Question: Union Atlantic has two main story lines. One is about a conflict over a piece of land between two neighbors, Charlotte Graves, a retired history teacher, and Doug Fanning, a young banker; the other is about the financial troubles at the bank where Doug works. How did these two events come together for you as you wrote the novel?

Adam Haslett: The characters are what came first. I created each of them separately before I ever knew how they would inhabit the same novel. The first was Charlotte’s brother Henry Graves, the president of the New York Federal Reserve, whose first sections I wrote ten years ago. I’d become fascinated by this idea of the anonymous power that the Fed and other public and private bureaucracies have over our daily lives and I wanted to place a character at the pinnacle of one of those organizations, mostly to discover for myself how that kind of mind would work. That, in turn, gave me the idea of a troubled bank that the Fed would be regulating, and thus a banker, who became Doug Fanning. Charlotte was the other major figure and it was in writing about her as she lived alone with her dogs in the semi-rural town of Finden that I came up with the idea of this land her grandfather had donated to the town for preservation and her anger at it being sold and a mansion being built on it. The last to arrive on the scene, so to speak, was Nate Fuller, the grieving teenager, who comes to Charlotte for tutoring and ends up with a crush on Doug.

Question: Which of these four main characters do you identify with the most?

Adam Haslett: I identify with each of them in different ways. Charlotte’s fierce convictions about the importance of history, literature, and art. Henry’s conflicted belief in both good government and keeping the system afloat. Nate’s sorrow and desire. And even the violence of Doug’s ambition. You have to expose part of yourself to create a character deep enough for readers to care about. You try not to because it’s hard and at times shameful, but then when you read those pages over and you see they have no life to them so you throw them away and force yourself to be more honest. So I suppose the answer is I see myself in all my characters, in their best moments and in their worst.

Question: Charlotte’s mental deterioration is both heartbreaking and chilling. She’s such a proud woman, with such zeal, but her thoughts are turning against her. Can you talk about the role her two dogs, Sam and Wilkie, play in this unraveling?

Adam Haslett: As with many of the characters from my first book, solitude is a basic fact of Charlotte’s life. The man she loved when she was young died many years ago and she’s lived on her own ever since. It’s her dogs who keep her company. And as we all know, owners speak to their pets. When I began writing Charlotte and figuring out how the intensity of her interior life would manifest itself, it occurred to me that she might hear the Mastiff and the Doberman speaking back at her. And because she is an upholder of what I see as a decaying tradition of humanism, I chose two figures who I think of as part of the superego, or guilt that lies behind American liberalism--the puritan preacher, Cotton Mather, and the black separatist, Malcolm X. They share a castigating, high-rhetoric that captures something of the violence Charlotte experiences in her own thoughts. And it’s their voices, the unconscious of her own tradition, which grow louder throughout the book, until eventually she is overcome by them.

Question: How and why did you choose Boston and its surrounding suburbs as the backdrop for your novel?

Adam Haslett: The simplest answer is that that’s where I grew up. First on the south shore, near Plymouth, and then later west of Boston. It’s the landscape I know best, the one where my memories run the deepest. It’s also a place where you feel the weight of the past quite easily, given its history, and the evidence of it, mostly in old buildings and houses. Charlotte and Doug’s conflict over the land that Doug has built his house on comes out of that history. She sees him as a tasteless intruder; he sees her as an anachronistic snob. And they both have their points.

Question: Most of your novel is written in a fairly direct, realist manner, which in the intense scenes, particularly with Charlotte and the dogs, rises a few registers into more lyrical language. Can you talk a little about the style of Union Atlantic?

Adam Haslett: For better or worse, I care a lot about holding my reader’s attention. Perhaps obsessively so. I think of myself as crafting an experience for her or him. And so I want them with me as I move through a scene or a thought. Once your reader is with you, they’re willing to go places, to take leaps. I think a writer has to earn that trust, in whatever style they are working in. And so ninety percent of the work goes into the sentences. Trying to create a rhythm in the writing that does more than just communicate information. That’s why in the end you can never summarize a book. It exists in the sequence of words that it was written in and nowhere else.

Question: The novel takes place during the lead up to the Iraq War and it involves a bank that has taken excessive risk, thus endangering the whole financial system. These two issues, war and finance, have dominated much of the country’s attention in the last decade. Was it your intention to write a topical novel?

Adam Haslett: I wouldn’t say I was aiming to be topical. I finished the book the week that Lehmann Brothers collapsed, so during the writing I was mostly worried that no one would know what the Federal Reserve was, or if they did they wouldn’t want to read about it in a novel. That said, I do feel a responsibility as a writer to try to understand what it’s like to be alive in the world today. We live in an insanely complicated and distracting culture which makes it very hard to slow down and think through the consequences of actions taken by individuals, governments, and corporations. I did feel a duty to try to dramatize at least some fraction of this maelstrom. You write the book you want to read, and I wanted to read a book that would bring together the micro and macro scale of contemporary life. That was my ambition, more than an attachment to any particular set of current events.

(Photo © Brigitte Lacombe)


From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In Haslett's excellent first novel (following Pulitzer and National Book Award finalist short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here), a titan of the banking industry does battle with a surprisingly formidable opponent: a retired history teacher. Doug Fanning has built Union Atlantic from a mid-size Boston bank to an international powerhouse and rewards himself by building a rural palace in Finden, Mass. The land his house is built on, however, had been donated to Finden for preservation by Charlotte Graves's grandfather, and Charlotte believes she now has a claim on the lot. She may be right, and her disdain of modern decadence means bad news for Doug should she win in court. Meanwhile, high school senior Nate Fuller, who visits Charlotte for tutoring and Doug for awkward and lopsided sexual encounters, finds himself with the power to upset the legal and cultural war game. Haslett's novel is smart and carefully constructed, and his characters are brilliantly flawed. (Charlotte's emerging instability is especially heartbreaking.) This book should be of interest to readers fascinated but perplexed by the current financial crisis, as it is able to navigate the oubliette of Wall Street trading to create searing and intimate drama. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Adam Haslett is the author of the novel Union Atlantic and the New York Times best-selling short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award and has been translated into fifteen languages. The collection was one of Time Magazine's Five Best Books of the Year, a selection of Today's book club, and the winner of the 2006 PEN/Malamud Award. Haslett has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Best American Short Stories, The O'Henry Prize Stories, and National Public Radio's Selected Shorts. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and Yale Law School, he currently lives in New York City.
Photo copyright Brigitte Lacombe

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Customer Reviews

There are times when she seems to be a sympathetic character.
Marilyn Raisen
Adam Haslett is a fantastic writer and he has created tremendously flawed yet amazingly appealing characters who draw you fully into their story.
Larry Hoffer
I would like a lot of good things to happen to Nat, for one, and hope that Mr. Haslett writes about him in another story.
H. F. Corbin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Susan Tunis TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
With his debut novel, Adam Haslett has written a nuanced story for our times. Arguably, it is the story of self-made banker, Doug Fanning, as the novel begins and ends with him. However, Fanning is just one of a small ensemble of richly-drawn characters orbiting and intersecting each other. The banker is embroiled in a lawsuit and property dispute with Charlotte Graves. Charlotte is an aging schoolteacher who is in the process of slowly, sadly loosing her mind. Witnessing this is Charlotte's brother, Henry, who also happens to be the President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Henry is the ultimate authority to whom bankers like Fanning, who play fast and loose with their clients' money, must answer. And finally there is 18-year-old Nate Fuller, infatuated with Fanning and Charlotte in very different ways.

These characters and several others defy easy classification. It's far too simplistic to paint Fanning as the villain of this story. Although this novel is set in 2002, Haslett sheds a great deal of light on the banking environment that led to the recent bailouts. No one sets out to defraud the public. No one thinks they're the bad guy. One small decision leads to others; events snowball and grow out of control. Fanning relies on situational ethics in both his personal and professional life, with devastating consequences. Charlotte, on the other hand brings to bear an unyielding moral code that does almost as much harm.

The story that unfolded on the pages of Union Atlantic was filled with ethical and emotional complexities. They made the novel feel like so much... more... than a mere story in a book. It had the complexity and messiness of life. Haslett's prose shines throughout, but does not overshadow, the tale he's telling. Wow, talk about a writer to watch! Surely, this will be one of the strongest debuts of the year.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on December 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At its most simple level, "Union Atlantic" tells the story of a bank failure and a feud between neighbors over a contested piece of property. But the novel is so much more. Both stories have betrayal somewhere at their core; both are compellingly told and raise larger questions about what constitutes morality and whether any real principles of justice underpin our society. Both present the reader with a set of unforgettable and brilliantly drawn characters.

One of most unassuming of these, Henry Graves, is President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. At one point, he escorts a bank employee down to the basement of the Fed, to take a look at the physical gold that apparently provides a standard of value to our financial system. It sits in stacks in cages. In the context of this novel, this gold clearly has a larger meaning. "Add it all up," Henry says, "and it's no more than eighty or ninety billion worth. The wires clear more than that in an hour. All anchored to nothing but trust." Without that trust, we have no society; not even a loaf of bread can be sold or consumed. This novel explores what happens when fraud (in war, in love, in family) destroys that trust. It is thus not an easy novel to read. Indeed, there is a disturbing cynicism at its core. Though it is set in the year after Sept. 11, 2001, the editor explains that it was completed the week that Lehman Bros. fell; it is thus a weirdly (though bleakly) wise and prescient novel.

More than one of the chief characters is self-destructive. (I will limit myself here to what is implicit and present at the beginning, so as not to spoil the plot.) As the novel opens, a high school student whose empathy extends to both the two feuding neighbors has lost his father to suicide.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ken Staffey on April 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I picked this up in a Paris bookstore and since I remembered "You Are Not a Stranger Here" being particularly good, I bought this book without a lot of hesitation. I did like the book (it kept me company on the plane home); it's definitely not as bad as some of the reviewers here say, but it's also not the masterpiece that some have said it is. I think "Esquire" calls it a novel for the new century on the jacket blurb or something. I'd say it falls somewhere in between.

A number of reviewers have noted that the book is basically a morality of play with Charlotte on one end standing up for what she believes in; Doug is on the other cutting corners everywhere so he can to maximize Union Atlantic's profits; and Nate, the teenager is in between, as an undeveloped character.

I would agree with this and take it all a bit further. Charlotte is the person who stands up for what she believes in. As a teacher, she offers up history, including the darker episodes in our past and is eventually forced out because of it. Everyone tells her to tone it down, just go along. Even when she fights to preserve the land her grandfather donated to the town, she is urged to give in and move on. Ultimately, she loses her mind. While other factors have also brought it on, I kind of felt it represented the futility felt by some during the period. Oppose the war? You were called unpatriotic/with us or against us. Question government? You were warned of mushroom clouds and terrorists winning. Who would not go crazy?

Doug, on the other hand, is all about profits at all costs, winning, and collecting the material goods along the way.
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