cover image The Altruists

The Altruists

Andrew Ridker. Viking, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-52271-3

Ridker’s smashing debut follows the travails of the middle-class Jewish Alter family in their quest to discover how to be moral. Arthur relocated the family from Boston to St. Louis with the goal (never realized) of becoming a tenured professor at Danforth, and it’s his wife, Francine’s, success as a therapist that has allowed them to live in a wealthy enclave. Their son Ethan is now a 31-year-old gay man who still thinks about his college boyfriend while living as a shut-in in his New York apartment, piling up debt. Ethan’s sister Maggie, a recent college graduate, also lives in New York, and seeks to bring goodness everywhere and repeatedly accepts low-paying jobs. Arthur has always been a remote figure to Ethan and Maggie, which only intensifies as they discover the affair he had while Francine was being treated for breast cancer. Two years after Francine’s death, Arthur invites his children home for a visit, supposedly to make amends, but it’s really because he’s broke—and Francine’s money went to them. While Arthur awkwardly tries to relate to Ethan and Maggie, they begin to see him more as a whole person instead of a construct. Ridker tells his tale with humor, insight, and depth, making this a novel that will resonate with readers. (Mar.)