Write what you know, the adage goes. Cristina Alger has learned that lesson early on.
Her first novel, The Darlings, revolves around an über-wealthy Upper East Side family whose wealth comes from Wall Street. Alger grew up in a wealthy Upper East Side family whose family business revolved around Wall Street.
The girl knows what she's talking about, from the posh high-society charity parties at the Waldorf-Astoria to weekends in the Hamptons. She has sat in the back seats of those idling and always-waiting Lincoln Town Cars and chauffeured Escalades she writes about.
If you're interested in this rarefied life, and the people who dwell there, this is about as close as you're going to get to the penthouses of Park Avenue. Library Journal has already called The Darlings "a financial thriller somewhere between the novels of Dominick Dunne (though not as flippant) and Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities (though not as serious)."
The premise is straightforward. A fabulously wealthy family — think billionaires — along with the rest of New York, is reeling from the 2008 financial crisis that brought down Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. Things go from bad to worse when the Darlings find themselves in the media spotlight. Can that be the Feds at the front door instead of the florist? Yes, it can.
Alger (whose family firm is Fred Alger Management Inc. and whose father, David, died in the World Trade Center attacks) has written one of the first novels about the 2008 financial crisis (there are many non-fiction accounts), saying she wanted to get into the "hearts and minds" of the people who had a front-row seat on the world-changing crisis. She succeeds.
What happens to the Darling family in the course of a weekend is what carries this tale along, but it's Alger's description of quintessential New Yorkers, and how they survive, that adds the extra layer.
And so she writes: "The ones who stayed long enough to raise children were the tough ones, the tenacious ones, the goal-oriented ones, the gold-digging ones, the deal-closing ones, the 'kill or be killed' ones, the ones who subscribed to the philosophy 'whatever it takes.'"
Alger has what it takes, in the best sense of the phrase.