In this engaging memoir, Massachusetts Sen. Warren (co-author: All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan, 2005, etc.) introduces her family and recounts the battles that shaped her career as a teacher and politician.
Educated as a specialist in contract law, the author reshaped her career to become one of the country's leading experts in bankruptcy after the law was amended in 1981. Seeking to understand why people were going bankrupt in increasing numbers, Warren began to accumulate evidence contradicting the orthodox view that people seeking protection from creditors via the bankruptcy courts were deadbeats “who existed at the economic margins and would always be there.” She began to understand that bankruptcy was affecting ordinary middle-class people who found themselves unable to face the financial consequences of job loss, sickness or other personal catastrophes. These elements resonated within her own family: Her father lost his job and suffered repeated sicknesses, and her grandchildren have ongoing health issues. Warren pushed further to identify how credit-issuing institutions were taking advantage of consumers in manipulative ways. The expertise she developed led to a request for her to join the staff of a presidential commission on bankruptcy in 1995. The author uses her legal background, political knowledge gained from a succession of appointments involving bankruptcy law, an investigation into the financial crisis of 2008, and her proposal for a Consumer Finance Agency to provide intriguingly detailed information about the politics of bankruptcy, banking and credit. She introduces leading figures with whom her career has intersected, including Sen. Edward Kennedy and Congressman Barney Frank, and she shows how her continuing concerns with the financial plight of the middle class shaped her approach to the battles she felt called to fight. The book also covers her Massachusetts senatorial campaign.
A frankly partisan memoir that provides shrewd insights into both national politics and the state of the middle class.
The peripatetic Matthiessen (Shadow Country, 2008, etc.) ponders Auschwitz decades after the Holocaust, in a novel that’s philosophical, mordant and surprisingly romantic.
Clements Olin is a 55-year-old professor of Slavic literature with a specialty in works by Holocaust survivors. That interest has been an abstraction for him for much of his career, but as he visits the Nazi camp for a two-week spiritual retreat in 1996, his understanding becomes more emotionally concrete. Clements is one of 140 pilgrims there, and the agenda includes a mix of tourism, meditation, and evening dinner discussions that inevitably turn into heated arguments about God, anti-Semitism, patriotism and man’s capacity for evil. Chief among the instigators is Earwig, who rains contempt upon the visitors, whom he considers “soft and runny as one-minute eggs.” Clements is tolerant of the man’s profane reprimands—he’s the necessary point of entry for Matthiessen’s musings, after all—but the professor has other things on his mind. First of these is learning what happened to his mother, who lived near the camps and may have been sent there; second is Sister Catherine, a young nun whose spiritual unsteadiness serves as a magnet for Clements’ own spiritual and romantic anxieties. Matthiessen handles these threads gracefully and without a studious reverence for his novel’s difficult subject; Earwig is the book’s comic relief as well as its angry id. Even so, In Paradise as a whole feels overly formal; the framing device of the retreat makes the philosophizing feel potted (today, the perils of patriotism, tomorrow, the complicity of the Catholic Church, and so on) and Clements’ emotional longings, constricted. A burst of spontaneous dancing on the retreat gives the book a similarly surprising lift, but it’s quickly back to hand-wringing and self-loathing.
In Scottoline’s latest family-centered thriller (Accused, 2013, etc.), Jake Buckman lets son Ryan drive the family car on a back road. Very bad idea.
The car hits someone, and she’s dead. Faced with the prospect of his teenager’s life being ruined, Jake tells him to get back in the car, and they drive away. “[D]on’t tell Mom,” Jake warns; he loves his wife, but Pam has the personality you’d expect of a superior court judge (judgmental), and their marriage is still recovering from Jake’s decision to start his own business, which has made him a mostly absentee husband and father. He’s now “one of the top-ten ranked financial planners in southeastern Pennsylvania,” though his planning skills aren’t evident as Jake ineptly tries to cover their tracks. He also has a terrible time keeping his son from confessing once they learn that the dead girl is Ryan’s high school classmate Kathleen Lindstrom. It takes more than 100 pages for the plot to involve anything other than Jake’s nerves, Pam’s suspicions and Ryan’s guilty wails, all of which are believable but not very interesting. Sleazy blackmailer Lewis Deaner livens things up, especially after he turns up murdered. If the police find those cellphone pictures Deaner had of Jake and Ryan at the scene of the crime, Jake will be a suspect. And once Ryan has blurted out the truth to his mother, furious Pam might be just as happy to see Jake in jail. The killer’s identity isn’t much of a surprise, since he’s the only character with any individual traits apart from the Buckmans and the cops, but the final twist comes out of nowhere, 10 pages from the end.
Very slow off the mark, though once blackmail and murder enter the picture, Scottoline moves things along with her customary professionalism, if scant credibility.