The great American film-maker John Sayles has always had a deep interest in American history and his views tend to correspond with those of the late historian Howard Zinn—America as the imperial nation, land of the powerful rich and the disempowered poor, drunk on a belief in “manifest destiny”. Sayles’ new novel takes the last few years of the 19th Century, a time when America was cocksure in its sense of what it was and what it could do, and weaves a handful of fascinating stories that take a careful look at who we thought we were and who we hoped we might become, into what might be our best and most thoughtful political piece of fiction ever to have examined such history. Sayles is a novelist of rare skill who carries his intricate plot effortlessly, taking the reader around the globe tracing American greed and ambition at its most ravenous. Don’t be put off by the size of the book.
Union Atlantic is Mr. Haslett's first novel, following his short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here, which was a finalist for both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. I think it's likely to be the best novel I'll read this year -- filled with characters and a plot that spoke to me about who we are as Americans today, and how we found ourselves in a culture of money, fear and isolation. In Union Atlantic, a banker is motivated by greed and the desire to keep the astronomical debt his company carries afloat for just one more day -- regardless of the consequences; teenagers do drugs, dream of a future away from their hometown, and struggle to sculpt an identity; and a retiree stages a final hurrah of protest, rekindling the spirit of activism from her youth. Defining the American psyche unlike any other book I've read recently, Union Atlantic seems like a Great Gatsby for the new millenium. Highly recommended.