The Altruists

Viking.Mar. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9780525522713. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780525522720. F
DEBUT The Alter family of St. Louis, MO, is disharmonious and dysfunctional, its individual members seemingly irreconcilable. Family head and engineering instructor Arthur is a well-meaning man whose single foray into do-gooderism ends in fiasco: his project to bring sanitation to underdeveloped Africa succeeds only in spreading deadly sleeping sickness. His recently deceased wife, Francine, has willed her secretly accumulated fortune directly to their two children, a postmortem slap at Arthur for his infidelity. Without that money, Arthur will lose his house, so he naturally concocts a scheme to ingratiate himself with his kids in order to secure their inheritance. What could possibly go wrong? Through a series of sketches and flashbacks, Ridker creates characters who frustrate, engage, and ultimately inspire. Though bitterness and interpersonal incompetence seem the dominant forces driving these protagonists, their fundamental love for one another prevails. Ridker's debut is at once humorous and poignant; without the author's skill and regard for his creations, this story could easily have slumped into the depressed mode of some of William Goldman's character-driven narratives of decades ago. Thankfully, it doesn't.
VERDICT For readers drawn to flawed characters and their redemption.

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