The Alters are a very special kind of family. As their telling name suggests, they want to be there for the others, alter in Latin, what leaves them in a complete mess. After mother Francine’s death, Arthur runs deeply in debt and is not realising that his career is over and that it is only a question of time until his Midwestern college sets him free. His son Ethan had started a big career after college, but found his work dull and useless and finally just quit. Daughter Maggie had higher ambitions from the start, but troubles financing her work at non-profit organisations leaves her almost famished. When Arthur calls for a family reunion to save the family home, Maggie and Ethan are not sure if they want to come. And from their past, this reunion can only end in a catastrophe.
Andrew Ridker’s debut is a tour de force through a family history narrated in a hilarious tone that reminds me strongly of the classic Jewish wit and humour. The characters suffer their shortcomings, but are never humiliated. He treats them with a generous smile, knowing that they can’t actually change the way they are. He integrates stereotypes carefully so that it is a great fun to deconstruct them, starting with the family name and ending with the fact that it is money that drives the story.
The author created some quite interesting characters, even though they try to lead a meaningful life, selfless and to the benefit of others, all three of them withdraw from the world and social contacts and in the end, find themselves only circling around themselves. For me, this seems to be the most central question of the novel: how can you lead a meaningful life, that has a purpose and a lasting impact on the world. Careers do not seem to be the solution, but the absence of careers also isn’t the answer. Just as the Alters, the reader will have to figure out for himself what makes you happy and gives a meaning to your time on earth.