For economic reasons, you should buy Hernan Diaz’s TRUST. It’s four stories for the price of one. For enjoyment reasons, you should also read it.
The novel, which won Diaz the 2023 Pulitzer Prize, asks one question: Who is Mildred Bevel? Four related stories offer answers, but Mildred is different in each. So which one do you trust?
Bonds, the first story, is written by Harold Vanner, a novelist who may have been a friend with benefits. But Vanner obfuscates, because Bonds is about Benjamin and Helen Rask – fictional characters based upon Andrew and Mildred Bevel. In Vanner’s account, Benjamin Rask is a brilliant, amoral Wall Street financier in the early 1900s, and Helen is a kind and generous arts patron who has serious psychological issues.
The second story, My Life, is dictated by Andrew Bevel. He wants to tell his story because a “vicious circle has taken hold of our able-bodied men: they increasingly rely on the government to alleviate the misery created by that same government, not realizing that this dependency only perpetuates their sorry state of affairs.” Mind you, this is during the Great Depression and Andrew is stupendously rich, but the only person he pities is himself. If you have confused him with Andy Rand, Ayn Rand’s dickhead brother, you are forgiven.
Andrew is also offended by Vanner’s portrait of Mildred (disguised as Helen). But mostly, Andrew is outraged by Vanner’s description of him (disguised as Benjamin). He wants to correct the record in an outrageously self-serving and mean-spirited way. To Andrew, Mildred is a saintly woman who dabbled in music and philanthropy. She is no master of the financial universe like him.
The third story is A Memoir, Remembered by Ida Partenza. Ida writes this in 1981 after the Bevels are dead. She’d been hired decades earlier by Andrew to transcribe his memoir (the rebuttal to Vanner) and improve upon it – a euphemism for make shit up.
She sees through Andrew’s self-aggrandizement and makes some informed judgments about Mildred. Her goal is to turn Mildred’s “tenuous ghost into a tangible human being”, but all she has to work with is Mildred’s mostly empty notebooks, Andrew’s self-absorbed account from 50 years earlier, and Vanner’s novel. To Ida, Mildred was a “thoughtful, disciplined philanthropist.”
Finally, in the last installment, Futures, we hear Mildred’s voice. She sees herself quite differently. It’s a refreshing perspective, but is it true?
TRUST succeeds on several levels. It’s absorbing historical fiction. It’s also a brutal examination of how immense wealth enables the super-rich and powerful to “align and distort” reality to their liking. In that sense, it’s not historical at all.
So, considering all the competing narratives, who was Mildred Bevel really? It all depends on who you trust. Me? I always trust the billionaires.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor