Like a tower of gifts waiting to be unwrapped, Trust offers a multitude of rewards to be discovered and enjoyed, its sharp observations so finely layered as to demand an immediate rereading.
The second novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Hernan Diaz (In the Distance), Trust consists of four distinct but related parts. Like Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life or the Netflix series “Russian Doll,” each section contains a compelling perspective that builds upon the one that came before, beginning with a 124-page novel titled Bonds by Harold Vanner. Bonds tells the story of financial tycoon Benjamin Rask, a poor little rich boy who grows up to make a killing in the stock market in the 1920s, and his gifted but unstable wife, Helen. Their biographical tale unfolds in engaging period prose that’s reminiscent of Henry James and Edith Wharton.
Next comes 60-odd pages of an unfinished memoir by Andrew Bevel, the magnate upon whom Bonds is based. Bevel wants to set the record straight, emphasizing his belief that his accumulation of wealth has been very much for the public good. He also wants to put a stop to the speculation that his days of financial wizardry have ended. And finally, Bevel wants to carefully curate the image of his late wife Mildred, a generous philanthropist whom he insists was not mentally ill, as portrayed in Vanner’s novel.
After a slow, steady build, Trust shifts into high-octane gear in part three, an engrossing memoir by noted journalist Ida Partenzan. The daughter of an anarchist Italian immigrant, Ida was hired by Bevel to take dictation and help him craft the memoir of section two—a job that launched her writing career. Now in the 1980s, as Ida turns 70, the Bevel House has become a museum, and she begins to explore the mansion and reconsider her role there.
Ida’s memoir offers riveting details about the creation of Bevel’s autobiography as well as her impoverished background, which she portrays in stark contrast to the “cool rush of luxury” that surrounds her employer. During her time in Bevel’s employ, Ida felt “as if I were a displaced earthling, alone in a different world—a more expensive one that also thought itself better.” Her memoir is also a quest for the truth about Mildred, and it reads like a detective story, heightened with moments of potential danger. As she ponders the way she and Bevel characterized Mildred, she writes, “I cringe at the trivial scenes I made up for her. . . . He forced her into the stereotype of ill-fated heroines throughout history made to offer the spectacle of her own ruin. Put her in her place.”
If this series of interconnected narratives already sounds complicated, don’t worry: Each section flows easily into the next in Diaz’s supremely skilled hands, with increasing momentum and intrigue. Throughout, he examines the wide disparities between rich and poor, truth and fiction, and the insidious ways in which these divides have long been crafted. The fourth and final section, pages from Mildred’s diary, contains a startling twist to this literary feast—a wonderfully satisfying end to Diaz’s beautifully composed masterpiece.