A novel, an autobiography, a memoir and a diary; four alternative truths. Pulitzer Prize winning Trust by Hernan Diaz is a riveting read, an experimental novels-within-a-novel which deals with the questions of truth, trust and American capitalism. Andrew Bevel is an American gazillionaire banker at the turn of the last century. Incensed by an unflattering roman a clef – which everyone recognises as based on his life – Bevel is keen to set the record straight and hires Ida Partenza as ghost writer for his own (carefully supervised) version of events. Ida, who has a few issues of authenticity herself, starts digging and discovers that all is not what it seems in the Bevel household.
The first part of Trust, called Bond and written by a Harold Vanner, tells the story of the ruthless, genius financier Benjamin Rask and his reclusive wife Helen, a thinly disguised Mr and Mrs Bevel. Rask, one of very few who emerges unbruised and enriched from the stock market crash of 1929, is accused of manipulating the market and making millions out of other people’s misery. Meanwhile, Helen seeks redemption by pouring money into charities.
Seeing his and his deceased wife Mildred’s reputation dragged through the mud in Vanner’s best-selling novel, Bevel sets out to buy every single copy, past and future, of the book. Next, his own version of the truth needs to be recorded and his reputation restored. Enter Ida Partenza who applies for what she thinks is secretarial work but which turns out to be something else altogether: ghost writing Bevel’s autobiography, My Life. Bevel represents everything Ida has been raised to hate by her anarchist, anti-capitalist father, but she is nevertheless fascinated by the challenge and intrigued by a world of immense wealth.
In the third and fourth parts of Trust we get to know Ida and Mildred’s perspectives. Ida, through her memoirs, recounting how she pieces together the Bevels’ life, and Mildred through a diary that Ida discovers later in life. With an increasing number of versions of events, who are we to trust?
Diaz artfully plays with literary forms: from the Henry James-esque Bond and the narcissistic, self-aggrandising style of Bevel’s autobiography My Life to the brief observations in Mildred’s diary, which, fittingly, is as difficult to decipher as the woman herself.
Trust is a hugely enjoyable read which brings to life the sad existence of the Paul Gettys of the world, with a clever feminist twist, as the cherry on top.
Trust by Hernan Diaz is published by Picador, 402 pages.