‘I don’t trust fiction,’ the famous author told me, both of us several glasses to the good. ‘It contains too much truth.’ I nodded and she laughed and we drank more wine, but that sentence stayed with me in all its aphoristic glory. When she died, this was the first thing I remembered: our conspiratorial conversation in the deepest dark of 1990s Soho.
This is not true. It has the feel of lived experience, yet it is entirely invented. The context, its placement and the fact that it is printed in a magazine gives it credence. As readers, we do not expect to be lied to. With a work of fiction, the opposite is true. Lies are all we can hope for. Hernan Diaz’s excellent second novel Trust asks which lies are more compelling: the ones we tell ourselves or the ones the world throws our way?
Trust opens with a novella called ‘Bonds’ (a title that also has a financial double-entendre), allegedly written by one Harold Vanner: a breathtaking account of Wall Street trader Benjamin Rask’s rise and rise, and that of his wife Helen. It is 120 pages of glowing, vital prose; an exquisite evocation of the roar of the 1920s and the howl of the Great Depression; an emotional maelstrom enveloping two characters who have seemingly spent their lives shying from emotion. Later in Trust, a recap of the reviews of ‘Bonds’ finds that some critics found it derivative; but while there is a suggestion of Henry James and Edith Wharton there, Diaz’s sentences and pacing feel singular.
Three pieces follow ‘Bonds’, all also attributed to different writers, that purport to tell the truth of the ‘real-life’ couple who inspired Vanner’s fiction: Andrew and Mildred Bevel.