Like Chatroulette, Union Atlantic, Adam Haslett’s new novel, boasts the inevitability of a work mainlined to the zeitgeist. It seems to have been plucked fully formed from the ether; or if not from there, then at least from the airwaves of Fox News. Doug Fanning, the book’s whorl of selfishness, need, and greed, is today’s Gordon Gekko — a VP at Union Atlantic, a bank too big to fail that’s terrifyingly plausible. Haslett, whose first book of short stories, You Are Not a Stranger Here
While in the Navy, Fanning read green blips on a radar screen in the Gulf War, clusters of pixels the coordinates of which, if properly interpreted, meant death for the ship, threat, plane, or people they represented. In civilian life, Fanning makes a killing reading similarly abstract numbers on a screen that mean, somewhere, dollars, yen, billions, profit, or loss. Haslett correctly identifies the long lonesome valley between the actual breathing thing and its signifier as the riverbed for modern tragedy. Fanning’s loosey-goosey liberty with pixels flickering across the screen is the catalyst for a tragedy — if not in four acts, then in four quarters.
The real joy of Union Atlantic
And so the entire novel tumbles beautifully to its tragic conclusion, like a tackle shown in super slow motion. In Union Atlantic, Haslett, like the best traders Lehmann Brothers had to offer, has constructed a stunning mansion of cards, lovingly created and elegantly wrought. And watching it all fall down is the most sublime pleasure of all.