A modern classic in the making, Trust is one of the most fascinating novels I’ve read all year.
Trust is a novel that is, at its most basic level, about capital. This is very much front and center in its first section, “Bonds,” where one of our two main leads is the hugely successful and nigh indomitable Wall Street financier, Benjamin Rask. Here the novel plants the seeds of the ideas it’s going to explore in its next three sections, namely the kind of mutability that is inherent to capital and the way it operates. That’s where you get passages like these,
“He became fascinated by the contortions of money–how it could be made to bend back upon itself to be force-fed its own body . . . It was the complexity of it, yes, but also the fact that he viewed capital as an antiseptically living thing. It moves, eats, grows, breeds, falls ill, and may die.”
“His reticence increased with his reach. The further and deeper his investment extended into society, the more he withdrew into himself. It seemed that the virtually endless mediations that constitute a fortune–equities and bonds tied to corporations tied to land equipment and laboring multitudes, housed, fed, and clothed through the labor of yet other multitudes around the world, paid in different currencies with a value, also the object of trade and speculation, tied to the fate of different national economies tied, ultimately, to corporations tied tied to equities and bonds–had rendered immediate relationships irrelevant to him.”
So the novel is interested in looking at the many permutations of capital: how one thing is transmuted into another, all these different “mediations” that can and do make capital seem so abstract for those at the top pulling its strings.
It’s not a stretch, then, to go from exploring the permutations of capital to exploring the permutations of narrative. That is to say, more than just being about capital, Trust is also a (very meta) novel about narrative–and those two things are, in fact, inextricable. The structure of the novel–four sections, all told from different points of view–very clearly brings this thematic focus to bear. And Trust is such a cleverly structured story: its narrative asks some patience of you, but by its end rewards you tenfold for that patience. What started out as a somewhat slow-moving and dispassionate novel for me ended up being an absolutely fascinating and, in many ways, enthralling read precisely because it started out in that very deliberately slow, measured way from the outset. I love when literary fiction novels keep me on my toes, and Trust did that and then some. It went in directions I never expected it to go, and more than just being surprising, those little twists and turns made the novel so much more thematically rich and complex in the end.
Much in the same way that capital is always subject to these “mediations”–equities, bonds, land, etc.–Trust also gives us narratives about this famous financier character that are mediated by different authors and genres: a novel, a memoir, a journal. And the more you try to put your finger on what kind of person this man is, the harder it becomes to define him; accounts of his character are always shifting, transmuting across the book’s many narratives and genres. Language, of course, plays a critical role in how these narratives work–in fact, what I loved so much about Diaz’s exploration of narrative is how carefully he pays attention to language in his writing, specifically the parallels between the personal and the financial. The novel is called “Trust” and its first section is called “Bonds”–the double meanings there fit right into what the novel is trying to do re: capital + narrative. But Trust takes this even further; it’s also interested in asking questions about the relationship between the self and wealth: in what ways is the former caught up in the latter? And as much as the novel highlights how wealth is institutional–supported and perpetuated by all the institutions that work in one’s favour because one happens to fall on the side of privilege–Trust is also interested in interrogating what it means on an individual level to accrue these almost unfathomable amounts of wealth. What kind of person would you have to be to be able to do that? Where does the drive to make so much money come from, and, ultimately, where does it lead?
“Every single one of our acts is ruled by the laws of economy. When we first wake up in the morning we trade rest for profit. When we go to bed at night we give up potentially profitable hours to renew our strength. And throughout our day we engage in countless transactions. Each
time we find a way to minimize our effort and increase our gain we are making a business deal, even if it is with ourselves. These negotiations are so ingrained in our routine that they are barely noticeable. But the truth is our existence revolves around profit.”
Finally, I want to mention the writing, which is just pitch-perfect. (I highlighted so many passages, not just because they were interesting, but also because they were just beautifully written.) Trust is one of those rare novels that’s so deftly and precisely written that not a single word feels out of place. You really feel like you’re in such capable hands here because the writing is so measured, controlled in a way that makes it feel elegant rather than stiff. If the novel’s structure–its different narrative genres–works well, it’s because the narrative voice in each of its sections is distinctive, attuned not just to the genre in question (memoir, journal, etc.), but to the narrator who is giving us access to that narrative.
“Her speculations reflected one another, like parallel mirrors–and, endlessly, each image inside the vertiginous tunnel looked at the next wondering whether it was the original or a reproduction. This, she told herself, was the beginning of madness. The mind becoming the flesh for its own teeth.”
My review of Trust has, so far, been less about my opinion of the novel and more about its thematic layers. To me, though, those two things are equivalent: that is to say, I loved this book precisely because it was so thematically rich. Like Noor Naga’s If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English, it’s a novel that I found remarkably thought-provoking, propulsive by virtue of the strength of its incredibly compelling commentary and structure. As with Naga’s novel, I started Trust feeling a bit lukewarm about it–but then it won me over, and the fact that it did just made me love it that much more in the end.
Thanks so much to Picador for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!