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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"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

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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