The Altruists by Andrew Ridker

The Altruists

Andrew Ridker

Spanning New York, Paris, Boston, St. Louis, and a small desert outpost in Zimbabwe, The Altruists is a darkly funny (and ultimately tender) family saga. 

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A New York Times Editors' Choice

"[An] intelligent, funny, and remarkably assured first novel. . . . [Andrew Ridker establishes] himself as a big, promising talent. . . . Hilarious. . . . Astute and highly entertaining. . . . Outstanding."
--The New York Times Book Review

"With humor and warmth, Ridker explores the meaning of family and its inevitable baggage. . . . A relatable, unforgettable view of regular people making mistakes and somehow finding their way back to each other."
--People (Book of the Week)

"[A] strikingly assured debut. . . . A novel that grows more complex and more uproarious by the page, culminating in an unforgettable climax."
--Entertainment Weekly (The Must List)

A Real Simple Best Book of the Year (So Far)

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2019 by The Millions and PureWow

A vibrant and perceptive novel about a father's plot to win back his children's inheritance

Arthur Alter is in trouble. A middling professor at a Midwestern college, he can't afford his mortgage, he's exasperated his much-younger girlfriend, and his kids won't speak to him. And then there's the money--the small fortune his late wife, Francine, kept secret, which she bequeathed directly to his children.

Those children are Ethan, an anxious recluse living off his mother's money on a choice plot of Brooklyn real estate, and Maggie, a would-be do-gooder trying to fashion herself a noble life of self-imposed poverty. On the verge of losing the family home, Arthur invites his children back to St. Louis under the guise of a reconciliation. But in doing so, he unwittingly unleashes a Pandora's box of age-old resentments and long-buried memories--memories that orbit Francine, the matriarch whose life may hold the key to keeping them together.

Spanning New York, Paris, Boston, St. Louis, and a small desert outpost in Zimbabwe, The Altruists is a darkly funny (and ultimately tender) family saga that confronts the divide between baby boomers and their millennial offspring. It's a novel about money, privilege, politics, campus culture, dating, talk therapy, rural sanitation, infidelity, kink, the American beer industry, and what it means to be a "good person."

Advance Galley Reviews

I thoroughly enjoyed this story of a dysfunctional family and their painful attempts at reconciliation. Oddly enough, I had just been on a business trip to St. Louis and, like any good book nerd, had been looking for something to read that was set there. I was unable to find anything recent and settled for good ol' Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi" (which was very interesting for the part that I read so far). After my trip, I started this book and, lo and behold, found that a large portion of it was set in St. Louis! So that was a fun discovery. I enjoyed the characters in this book very much. For some reason, they reminded me of Paul Theroux's Mosquito Coast - I'm guessing mostly because of the father who knows that his behaviors are not the best thing for his family, but can't help himself. The idiosyncrasies of each family member are characterized in a way that makes you understand them, and makes their quirks seem somehow less extreme. Although I have to admit that I could only picture Francine as the cartoon mom from American Dad! (Sorry, Francine....) Overall, this was an enjoyable book, and a good fit if you find yourself scheduling a trip to St. Louis! I received a free copy of this book from the Penguin First-to-Read program in exchange for an honest review.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone that is looking for a book with a great flow and a bit of humor. This book follows a family comprised of a father-Arthur, a mother-Francine, a daughter-Maggie, and a son-Ethan. The children are asked back home by there father, after their mother's death, to see if their father can basically guilt them out of their inheritance to save his home and life with his mistress. The children of course have no idea this is why he wants them home, and even though they have their reservations, they decide to come anyways. What happens is not what anyone would have expected! This is my first time reading a book by this author and I really enjoyed it. The title is very significant, and very well played with all the main characters in the story.

Entertaining development, this book explores family interrelationships and the central reason for many was money. Money drew them apart and also brought this family together.

I usually enjoy family sagas full of dysfunction, but this book didn't live to the expectations. I found it funny and sarcastic at times, but on the whole just ok.

While The Altruists is beautifully written, it is very slow-moving. I failed to fully engage with any of the characters, except perhaps Francine. I wanted to shake each person in the story and ask them to examine their lives and develop a direction. It was telling that all of the living characters had difficulty with relationships and needed to be told by significant others that their behavior was self-centered. My rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

A little slow-going, The Alruists couldn't seem to make up its own mind about what it wanted to say and in what style this message should be delivered. Presenting an episodically-based, nonlinear, flashback heavy timeline and structure, the entire book gave off strong vibes of definitely heading somewhere important. Conversely, the design and actual execution felt like a book that wanted instead to just be a meandering, thought-provoking tale of American life. Floundering between the two, The Altruists never quite reached either goal. The Altruists basically has four main characters, the Alters. The father (Arthur), the mother, (Francine), the oldest child (Ethan), and the youngest child (Maggie). After that the other people are mere satellites who are, in different ways, impacted by the selfish desires and motivations of the Alters. The Alter kids are grown adults, mostly, and the three of them (Arthur, Ethan, and Maggie) felt like the leftover remains of what used to be a family. The four of them were very well written. However, they were all rather complex characters who were continually boxed in by the lack of direction. This was basically just explaining the life and lives of this family. And some families are just like that, nothing huge, just a disconnect that is never mended or that was never really there to begin with. But that doesn't mean it should be a novel. I think my favorite part of this book is actually the's funny on two levels. (Funny is a little strong of a word there...clever? Sure.) First, altruism being the belief in or practice of a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others....which is the opposite of this trio of characters. They are wholly selfish and self-centered. Even in a desire to do good, Arthur and Maggie especially, do so only to feel a sense of purpose in their aimless lives, and to generate vindication on their own inflated opinions of themselves and that they were meant to do good. Secondly, the title is a clever choice because of a conversation that happens between Arthur and Maggie. Arthur declares that there are no true -ists, only -isms. "There's no such thing as a feminist. Did you know that? No such thing as a Zionist either. No environmentalists. No Communists or anarchists. How about that? See, there are isms but not ists. People aren't ideas, Maggie. People aren't positions. People are people."—Arthur Alter. Being centered around a Jewish American family and the respective conflicts families generate and collect, the plot continually felt as though it were ramping up to a big, emotional explosion—something in the vein of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. But nothing ever really happened. This was an odd collection of memories and experiences that tell an interesting story in a very unsure way. I'm not asking for a neat and tidy resolution, but after all I invested in this, the ending had all the impact of the way you're told NOT to end your middle school water conservation speech. "And...that's the end of my speech," and then you meekly sidestep away from the podium.

3.5/5 stars. "It was practically the Alter family credo, an anti-Hippocratic oath: First, Do No Good." Literary fiction generally falls outside my comfort zone, but this one has a kind of charm that I can't quite explain. The writing alternates between plain and function (in a good way) and so-accurate-it-almost-hurts observations wherein nothing is sacred and no one is safe; there are quiet "stop and smell the roses" moments, bemused people-watching scenes, pithy remarks on modern society, et cetera. "He was not at ease around people and regarded those who were with envy and suspicion. Whenever Ethan caught someone looking at him on the subway, his first thought was that he was doing something wrong. Standing wrong. Breathing wrong. Then his cheeks would flush with anger. Why should he doubt himself? Why should he make himself small, when lesser souls sat on life with their legs spread open?" I related intensely and embarrassingly to aspects of Ethan's and Maggie's lives. (Arthur, not so much. His POV was very "cis straight privileged male" which means probably exactly what you're thinking: there's a lot of staring at female undergraduates and wounded masculinity.) This is very much focused on character and theme, not so much in the way of plot — there are definite plotlines and lots of tension, but it's kind of a slow-moving narrative. (Still waters and all that.) Although the progression and development were interesting, something about the ending wasn't quite satisfying. It wasn't too abrupt, because the transition felt natural and the chronology/timeline was well-established, and it all did seem a logical continuation/closure for the established arcs, but on some level it just felt a little off to me.

Rating: 4/5 The Altruists was an unexpected pleasure for me. I usually don’t enjoy realistic fiction depicting the ups and downs of family dynamics, but Andrew Ridker really hit the nail on the head with his characterization of a father, mother, daughter, and son, each with individual personalities that inevitably feed off of each other. The Alters are a seemingly normal Midwestern family, but with the tragedy of Francine’s (the mother’s) death hanging over the family. Her demise due to illness brought out different reactions from Arthur (father), Ethan (son), and Maggie (daughter), each splitting their separate ways after Francine’s passing. Arthur, a notorious minimalist and critic of just about everything, slowly loses his career and his relationship with his children. “Nothing upset Ethan’s father like things. He was a minimalist. He had never learned, nor yearned, to inhabit that enviable space in the ‘upper-middle class.’ The Alters were all to familiar with his position: a refrigerator kept his food cold and a septic system sucked his shit underground. What were all these extra things for?” (74) Ethan had moved to the big city to escape his father’s judgement of his sexual orientation while experiencing heartbreak, eventually quitting his job and losing his passion and will to live. “Loneliness, it turned out, was perversely addictive.” (80) Maggie had turned to the nonprofit life in an attempt to feel like her life on Earth was justified. She gave her all to helping others, living in an incredibly impoverished state to do so. “[The women with whom she worked] were all nonprofit lifers, sad foot soldiers in the war on injustice with puffy eyes and long, carved-out faces like the ceremonial masks of the third worlders they were ostensibly determined to help.” (20) Over the course of the novel, the family is called together to talk about Francine’s inheritance. The money has unexpected consequences and uncovers long-forgotten memories. You may start to understand each of the Alters in a completely new light by the end. This was overall a terrific book, with incredible use of imagery and sarcasm. I really loved it because I could simultaneously relate to each of the Alters individually and loved each of their character arcs. Thank you to Penguin Random House for providing me with an ARC.

this was a really sprawling and beautiful book, i would recmmend it to just about anyone I know. I was pleasantly surprised as i had not heard of the writer nor the book prior to requesting it here.

A well written book but unfortunately I did not like any of the characters and therefore was never invested in what happened with them. If you like literary fiction with highly dysfunctional families then this is the book for you.

While I like books like this, I definitely found that it was difficult to get into it at first. It was pretty hard to really get engrossed in this story. Thankfully, the second half manages to pull together the story. It's a surprisingly well done story with interesting characters.

This book is about a disjointed family that have issues with each other and with the lives they are all leading. It is slow moving and it took me a while to get through the entire book, but in the end I was glad that I did. At times, I was completely lost with the way the story was going, often going back to the past and then jumping quickly to the present time. I was pleasantly surprised by the ending.

The Altruists is a novel about a dysfunctional Jewish-American family and how they cope after the death of the mother. I kind of struggled with the first half of the book. It went back and forth between past to present giving insight into each character's life trying to show how previous events helped to shape who they have become and how each of these moments also changed their future. I really had hope because I did find it interesting how someone could completely change over one experience in life. But unfortunately I was never able to really connect with any of the characters and found most of them quite annoying. The second half of the book kind of pulled the story all together and I found that the characters became a lot more likable at the end. The Altruists showed how we are bound to our families and that they are all you really have in this life that matters. Even though I was not a huge fan of this book, Andrew Ridker is a great writer and look forward to what he comes out with next.

I don’t really know what to say about this book. I don’t want to say I hated it, because truthfully it’s a very well-written book, but I can’t really say I liked it. I don’t think that’s the book’s fault, though. I’m not the biggest fan of literary fiction to begin with, and when I picked up The Altruists it just wasn’t the story I was in the mood to read. None of the characters were likeable, and I couldn’t connect with any of them. The Alter family just seemed overly dysfunctional, and they all had pretty significant character flaws that made it difficult to root for them. I will say that I liked how it all wrapped up, and I liked Ethan and Maggie in the final chapters much more than I did throughout the rest of the book. The best thing I can say about The Altruists is that the author is an excellent writer, and the book is an interesting glimpse into the human psyche and the ties that bind a family together and pull them apart. Something about the description grabbed me enough to secure a copy, but unfortunately The Altruists just wasn’t the book for me. That’s entirely a personal opinion though, and if you’re into well-written, intellectual literary fiction I would recommend giving this book a try.

This book was well written and the characters were well defined. However, I did not really find a connection to any of the characters. I think the story ended well but it was just not something I would recommend. The font was also a problem for me and may have contributed to my ambivalence to this book.

The members of the Alter family are more of less a mess. There are secrets and struggles aplenty in this family. The mother Francine was the only character I liked though some of the others did come around at some point. I liked this book and the author was very successful in his ability to make me really dislike the characters he has created. I was wondering where it was going at points but it did wrap up pretty well.

I had a bit of a hard time with this one. The Altruists by Andrew Ridker is a smart contemporary that focuses on a family following the death of their matriarch. A large sum of money has been surprisingly delivered at the disposal of her estate, leaving her two children, Ethan and Maggie, financially well-off. Her husband has been left out of the will in this matter due to the issue of infidelity. Arthur, the patriarch, is hard pressed for money and struggles to make his bills. Ethan is a self-indulgent...for lack of a better word...prat who is trying to work through issues of insecurity, instability, and romantic failure. His sister, Maggie, is attempting to live a life of doing good by working somewhat meaningless jobs for meager pay. She has no definite path in life other than to try and do this unspecified good. Ridker's writing is good and very smart. It is clear that he is highly educated and pays quite a bit of attention to detail (most of the time...there was a flaw in the plot that seriously niggled at me). His prose moves well, but there are a lot of complex words included and obscure references. The reader will likely need to be prepared with a dictionary or access to the internet to decipher some of the words and items utilized in the narrative. This is somewhat nice, just to feel like I was learning something as I read, but it tended to feel a little over the top in spots, as if he was showing off. I think there could be a tendency for this to turn off a reader by making them feel somewhat...well...less than smart. The characters were well-developed and definitely flawed. They did have some realism. Individually, they work fine to create narratives and draw readers into the story. Together, they are a trainwreck. There is SO much dysfunction present that it's painful. I recognize that there are likely families like this out there, but there just seemed to be way too much craziness in one small group. I really needed a character to root for and I couldn't find one. Though they were definitely well described characters, I didn't like them. They just irked me. Sometimes this won't really affect my opinion of a book, but in this case, there was just too much driving me batty without a "normal" character to rescue me. Ultimately, I think this book may have just been slightly out of my wheelhouse. I enjoy contemporaries, but somehow this one just felt a bit too modern for me. I do appreciate Ridker's writing and the talent he clearly possesses. It was clear that he was attempting to create a narrative that displayed the family dysfunction, but then showed how the individuals mired in the situation could still move forward and survive. It just wasn't enough to win me over. This was a 2.5 star read for me. I tried to like this book...I really did. I debated over my rating for quite a long time. I just had to stick with my gut. The writing was good, the structure was good, but I just couldn't get attached to the characters or really care about the outcome. And really, the outcome was underwhelming and felt like a bit of an awkward wrap up. I guess I'm just a crabby reader with no patience for the struggles of others...I need a bright spot in my books.

I was happy to get back into the literary fiction genre with The Altruists. It was a bit of a hard transition to go from my norm (lately at least) of romance and thriller novels, back into the completely different world of literature. It definitely makes your brain work in a completely different way! I think it was this difference in thinking that made me have such a difficult time getting into the story of Arthur and his family. In the beginning I was bored, and found myself having to re-read pages at a time because I would realize that my mind had wondered elsewhere and I had no idea what was happening. Was this a product of different brain mechanics or just a boring story? In reality I’m not 100% sure, however I am blaming it on my brain, and not the author’s writing. I’m not blaming Andrew Ridker because I did find myself genuinely interested in the story and really wanted to know the answers to the two main questions: Where did the money Arthur’s children inherit come from? and Why was Arthur asking for his children to come home/would his plan work once they got there? While I would find my brain tired from all of the exercise I was putting it through to get to these answers I truly was interested. Overall, the story of the Alter family was an interesting one. They dynamic they have and the history to how they got to who they are today is one of intrigue. To see how different Arthur’s children, Ethan and Maggie, are really makes you ponder the whole Nature vs. Nurture debate - not that either of them were really nurtured by Arthur, but their relationships with him were definitely different. Would I read The Altruists again? No, probably not. But I would recommend it to anyone who likes to ponder ethics and the mysteries of the human psyche.   From one bookaholic to another, I hope I’ve helped you find your next fix.—Dani Dani's Score out of 5: ???????? (4/5) ~~~ Thank you to author Andrew Ridker and First to Read for giving me a copy of THE ALTRUISTS in exchange for my honest review.

I liked the writing style, but wondered where it was going. There was really no resolution and the people seemed to improve their lives after coming back together with her family. I thought the individual stories of each of the family members were well written, I just didn't think that their interactions were pliable with what happened when they reunited. This book was just ok. Thanks for the ARC, First to Read.

This was a true 3 star book for me - I didn't love it and I didn't hate it. It was well written, but I felt like the story really didn't go anywhere. It was about the extremely dysfunctional Alter family at various points in their lives. Most of the story takes place in the present day, 2 years after the death of the mother, Francine when the father, Arthur, invites his estranged children Ethan and Maggie home for the weekend. They are highly unlikable characters, particularly Arthur.

This book made me think of J.D Salinger’s Glass family stories. I read those so long ago, I can’t even say why that idea came to me. It was just a feeling. I did learn some things. Now I know that the word kopje means a small hill in Afrikaans. The other thing it did was to make me look up the inventor of the glowstick. All that being said, I am torn about what I think about this book. It is a debut novel, for that it is well-written, interesting and thought provoking. It was engaging although none of the characters were very likeable except for Ethan. Maybe. The ending was a bit too pat as it perfectly tied up the loose ends in a slightly unlikely manner. But, darn it, what happened to the mother’s watch in the end? Sad but funny but mostly sad.

Altruist by definition means "a person unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others". This is the first time that I've really seen this word played out in front of me. This is a story about the Alter family and it follows four members of the family at different points in their lives. The family is very dysfunctional but almost to the point that I didn't find that I related to it. I think this has a lot to do with the way it was written, the vocabulary used is at a higher level which I find that it hurts the reading value. I found myself looking up words to make sure that the story made sense to me. I enjoy reading but I don't enjoy homework assignments. I want to thank First to Read for the opportunity to read this.

The literary world is filled with them, the Jewish girls who live in New York and hate their mothers, the gay man, the scion of academe, and all so self-absorbed as to make them laughable. They are here, in THE ALTRUISTS, but author Andrew Ridker does not present them as serious folk worthy of sympathy. The family at the center of the novel is a dysfunctional crew, with no redeeming characteristics. We don’t have to cheer for them, feel for them, or hope for them. Just laugh at them, as the rest of the non-literary world laughs at the shallow creatures. Four people, so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t notice the others. What made this novel so readable was the fact that I did not feel as if I had to follow the formula, that the author invites his readers to snicker at the antics of his clueless creations. Does he write from experience at the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop? I kept turning the pages, wondering if any one of the four would reach that moment of awareness and evolve into a decent human being, as is standard format for the typical novel. Not to give the ending away, but it did follow the prescribed formula as taught, no doubt, at the Iowa Writers Workshop. Worth a weekend when you need a giggle and can get past the endless litany of Jewish New Yorkers with links to academia that are so popular with the publishers these days.

I wish that this tale of dysfunction would have been more of my cup of tea. I was given access to an advanced copy to review (by First to Read, Penguin Books USA), and unfortunately it was not what I expected. It was much like life can be: strange, heartbreaking, and like taking an abnormal psych survey course. Maybe it was the author’s point to make the broken, mentally ill, and weary flock to the therapist? Or maybe it was the opposite? Or maybe it was all chance? Or a combination of all of the above? The Alters, the focus of the novel, were all but Altruistic. It left me feeling unhappy and like I wanted to help them all, but I suppose books seek illicit reactions in people, so perhaps that was the point. I feel like I want to discuss this with others, but overall, I would prefer other plot lines and less focus on mental illness, be it in the overwhelming and blatant address of it through all of the characters, or the nuance that comes from the reactions and interactions of the characters. I am left with one question: Why?

This novel explores the members of the Alter family (Francine & Arthur and their children, Ethan & Maggie) at different points in its timeline. The author portrays unlikable characters and an aggressively dysfunctional family system. The character interactions kept me interested enough because I could never really tell what to expect. Thanks to First to Read- Penguin Books USA for the free copy of this book.

This is the story of generations of a self-absorbed family. I found them a most irritating group. Their response to others is far from sincere; their motives are selfish and most annoying. However, I stayed with these characters, finding answers and explanations as to how and why they have evolved into such irritating individuals. It is to the author’s credit that I didn’t give up on them. His style sparked my interest time and again and so I read on. The family remains consistent in their habits but the moments of insight and clarity lighten the gravitas. Absurdly comic at times, the plot didn’t allow me to take these characters as seriously as they take themselves. The conclusion does not disappoint; the journey proves more fruitful than futile. All in all, an experience worth having, a novel worth reading.

I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book via First To Read for my honest review on this book. This story is about the Alter family - Arthur, Francine, Maggie, and Ethan. They are torn apart after Francine's death and Arthur's affair. Arthur tries to pull his family back together for his own selfish reasons. Though during this weekend with his children, they all come to learn things about themselves as they are pushed to their emotional limits. I didn't really like the book, to be honest. I'm hovering between 2 out of 5 stars and 3 out of 5 stars and keep changing it, because I can't decide. The last 50% of the book was enjoyable. I had trouble pushing through the first half. There was nothing ~happening.~ There was a lot of background that didn't seem to fit together until the second half of the book. There was too much jumping between perspectives and shifting times in history without a literary reason I could see. My biggest peeve with the book was the choice of vocabulary. Ridker is a wonderful writer and clearly has a large vocabulary. But I felt in portions that I was reading through a book where someone got their hands too closely on a thesaurus. I haven't had to look up a word in a book in ages. In general, even if there is a word I am not familiar with, I am trained enough in picking up the meaning based on context clues. There were at least two occasions in this book where that was not possible. And while I am not necessarily complaining about learning new words, it made the book much less accessible than literature of this type needs to be or should be. The Alters were all very unlikable to me with no redeeming qualities. Perhaps the point, but I can't say I found anything about any of them altruistic.

I really wanted to like this book. It is the first time I have ever received an ARC, so I was quite excited. However, I immensely disliked this book. The word choice is stiff and pompous, the writing style does not flow, and I found the characters to be insufferable. Firstly, this book is wordy in an unnecessary way. It makes it incredibly difficult to read. I’m a firm believer that books should be accessible to everyone, and I also believe that it’s a wonderful thing that there are different levels of books. Every reader deserves a challenge, but this book is beyond a challenge. The vocabulary is difficult to the point of taking away from the actual plotline. In addition to being wordy, the writing style has no flow. It feels like a brick wall of text being thrown at the reader. I had to go back and read half the pages several times before I finally absorbed what they said. Lastly, none of the characters spoke to me. I didn’t form any attachments. The author could’ve killed everyone off mid-book, and my only response would’ve been as follows: “Wait? It’s over. Finally!” Every character felt irredeemably selfish, self important, and bland. They’re rather static. In conclusion, I would give this book 0.5/5 stars. It just wasn't for me.


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