A review of

Human Capital

by Stephen Amidon

Central question: If a man resorts to crude opportunism to save his family, is he a killer capitalist in the making, or a total scumbag?
Format: 384 pages, hardcover; Size: 6” x 9”; Price: $24; Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Editor: Lorin Stein; Jacket designer: Charlotte Strick; Book designer: Debbie Glasserman; Typeface: Fairfield Light; Job taken by author in order to support himself during the writing of novel: in-house writer for a dot-com start-up in the days leading up to its IPO. Representative sentence: “Drew joined the laughter, but Ronnie only smiled politely, aware that she could no more convince this table of the evils of competition than she could persuade a congregation of fundamentalist Christians of the emptiness of hell.”

I’ve been reading about how the “suburban novel” is making a comeback, and every time I encounter this claim I ask the other person in the room or myself or the wall—come back from what? If the suburban novel flirted with extinction it was in late September 2001, when, for approximately one hour, it seemed in poor taste to bemoan the soul-annihilating side effects of sheer comfort (if anyone can name a suburban novel that espouses the spiritual gains made by inhabitants of a center-hall colonial, please alert me to it) given that this sentiment was too uncomfortably similar to those expressed by certain building-annihilating terrorists.

I mention this only because Stephen Amidon’s excellent new novel, Human Capital, is being billed as one of these comeback suburban novels. But though its setting is the Fairfield County town of Old Totten, its psychic quarry is not the blandifying (or perversifying) effects of comfort, nor is the novel a portrait of the bohemian city couple coming to terms with their cowardly love of subdivision security. It is no Revolutionary Road. Human Capital is grippingly bleak, yes, it’s a page-turner with that Yatesian gravitational pull of inevitable doom, and—best of all—it made me feel very queasy about my own prospects, in the way that only really good books can. But Human Capital is not about the suburbs. It is about money, and as such Amidon’s antecedents are not Cheever and Yates, but Anthony Trollope: particularly The Way We Live Now, Trollope’s once-maligned masterpiece, which critiqued, among other things, the way money could render an otherwise loathsome, amoral person powerful and socially desirable. In other words: it’s a critique of certain icky, human side effects of capitalism.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Heidi Julavits

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