BOOK Review on Herman Diaz's Trust
Herman Diaz’s Trust is a very good book that I am pleased to have read, but it wasn’t an easy read. Set in the lead up to the 1929 Wall Street Crash, Trust tells four versions of the same story. In terms of my own enjoyment of reading, I preferred the final two parts to the earlier sections.
The first part of Diaz’s Trust is a fictional novel within the novel called Bonds, written by the fictitious Harold Vanner. I didn’t think to reflect on the significance of both this title and the title of the whole novel Trust until after I’d read it. However, with the book’s emphasis on success, wealth, and also familial and romantic relationships, there are plenty of connections to be made!
Bonds tells the story of wealthy financier Benjamin Rask, who manages to profit from the Wall Street Crash by converting his shares to cash in the nick of time. Within this and the wider story, there’s quite a lot of financial detail that I didn’t, if I’m truthful, even try to understand. My interest was more on understanding the characters.
In Bonds, Rask marries the eccentric and brilliant daughter, Helen, of a mentally unstable father and social climbing mother, who would even give Mrs. Bennett a run for her money! Vanner based this fictitious Manhattan couple on the real (but still fictional) life tycoon, Andrew Bevel and his wife Mildred Howland. In ‘real (fictional) life’, Mildred has a terminal cancer diagnosis, but in Bonds, Helen dies of heart failure in a sanatorium in Switzerland after undergoing extensive electric shock treatment to treat her mental instability. Much to Bevel’s chagrin, Vanner hadn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. Or had he?!
The second telling of events is actually through the incomplete memoir of Andrew Bevel. Presented as a first draft of a manuscript with gaps for further details to be added later, it is a clever use of unconventional narrative. In it, we learn more about Andrew Bevel and the nature of his marriage to Mildred. While Bevel is furious to have been fictionalized by Vanner, ironically, I found the presentation of his character more sympathetic in Bonds than in his own autobiography. The manuscript was ghostwritten by the narrator of the third section, Ida Partenza. Ida is a fascinating character in her own right. The daughter of an anarchist who believed that all money was, in fact, a fiction (prompting the reader to reflect on the nature of wealth and power), we delve into the relationship between her, her father, and her unscrupulous journalist boyfriend, Jack. In this part of the story Ida comes to realize that she is enabling the misrepresentation of Mildred. We also learn more of Bevel’s limitations and his need to mould a respectable narrative about his awkward marriage to Mildred. This reveals itself as Bevel retells to Ida details about his marriage that Ida had, in fact, invented for the manuscript. Things seldom appear as they are presented in Trust!
The final part of Trust is where we gain real insight into Mildred’s character, but even here, it is difficult to ascertain what is or has been the truth. The text comprises the missing pages from Mildred’s own journal where she describes the weeks leading to her death and exposes more of Bevel’s character. It is in this part where we learn more about how Bevel actually made his fortune and ironically see his character exposed far more than it ever had been in Vanner’s novel Bonds, that upset Bevel so much.
I can completely see why Trust won the Pulitzer Prize and why Obama said it was one of the best books he’d read in 2022. The structure is fantastic, and Herman Diaz’s ability to weave convincing narratives while showing the unreliability of that same narrative is incredible. I just don’t think I am clever enough to fully appreciate the multi-layered exploration of power, wealth, and its impact on character. Trust was actually recommended to me by a friend who probably has the best brain of anyone I know, so I should have expected it to be challenging. It was, but in a good way. I think if we ever read Trust as a book club choice, I’d benefit enormously from hearing everyone else’s thoughts and insights.
Book Club Questions on Herman Diaz’s Trust
1. If you were to choose actors for a film adaptation of Trust, who would you pick for the lead roles?
2. Whom do you empathize with more, Benjamin Rask or Andrew Bevel? How accurately do you believe Vanner portrayed Benjamin Rask?
3. Who do you consider the most trustworthy narrator in Trust? Why?
4. How is it possible for Andrew Bevel to erase all evidence of Vanner from the New York Public Library? What message is Diaz conveying about the authorship of Bonds? Do you believe a single person could erase another’s existence from history?
5. Ida believed Jack stole her papers, but it was her father who took them. Discuss why you think he took them.
6. Ida visits Andrew Bevel’s home after it’s transformed into a museum. What were her motives and was the visit successful?
7. Which character in Trust earns your deepest sympathy and why?
8. What do you think motivated Andrew Bevel to hire Ida as his book’s ghostwriter?
9. Based on the novel’s hints, how would you describe the ‘real’ Midred’s character?
10. Can you identify similarities between Andrew Bevel’s world and our current society? Share your thoughts.
Book Club Questions on Trust (For Those Who Haven’t Read the Book)
1. Trust by Herman Diaz seamlessly blends four distinct stories, each providing fresh insights and perspectives on the preceding tales. What’s your preferred narrative structure in books?
2. Bevel’s autobiography in Trust is crafted to seem narcissistic and inadequately written. In your opinion, what characterizes ‘good’ writing?
3. Trust by Herman Diaz received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Would such an accolade make you more likely to pick up the book, or do you typically steer clear of award-winning novels? Discuss your views.