4 out of 4 stars
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Cooperative Lives by Patrick Finegan is a novel featuring characters that seemed to have belied their true nature, or were simply perceived by their peers differently from what they really were. The very title, Cooperative Lives was written with the “v” crushed out, making “Lives” read as “Lies” which, I opined, the author hinted as to how the characters should be regarded until such time when their true colors were exposed.
It was in midtown Manhattan, in a high-rise building for New York’s elite at Central Park South, that George Wallace and family occupied an apartment, 7H. Wallace was black, an IT specialist, and typical of New Yorkers who gazed down in the elevator to avoid eye contact. His wife, Hannah Kaplan Wallace, of Kurdish descent from Turkey, was typical of recent emigrants who were not so fond of socializing, either. So, among his neighbors, the closest to Wallace was only the lawyer, John Roberts, of apartment 8B, thanks to their wives’ and daughters’ bonding together. Now, when Robert’s wife, Susan, was saved from a swerving bus by a certain Sheldon Vogel of apartment 14N, their circle of friends added on a new member in Vogel. However, Vogel happened to erroneously transfer funds online, in his capacity as money manager for the account of a widow, Mrs. Pfouts. While that could be just embezzlement, when Vogel was known to be in association with a lawyer, Roberts, who was with an IT specialist, Wallace, whose wife of Kurdish roots from Turkey disappeared, people started to suspect something more fishy was going on. The press, FBI, CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security all swooped down on the embattled neighbors.
Finegan has virtually made this novel the carrier of his commentaries on everything under the sun, as long as these touched upon the lives of the characters. In a sense, it was contemporary history viewed within the framework of the country’s biggest metropolis, and within the timeframe of the decade that just passed. To appreciate this novel is to understand the social matrix upon which the storyline was superimposed. There is still racism and sexism which is understandable when Manhattan’s elite forms a club that is ethnically, racially and sexually exclusive. Although some male lasciviousness were depicted in some characters, there is balance when some females were so promiscuous, making their husbands unsuspecting cuckolds many times over.
The characters were thoroughly developed, having ample description of the emotions and sentiments of individuals in family or personal relationships, and even having details of trades and skills. In my mind, I could almost conjure Wallace to look like Will Smith, and Sheldon Vogel to look like Ernest Borgnine. Finegan possessed great knowledge of events that transpired in the last decade, they be economic, political, technological, sports, entertainment, or of other fields. He could cite drugs and medical procedures as though a doctor or he could enumerate technical descriptions of computer boards or circuitry as though a computer programmer. The author is undoubtedly well-travelled, and therefore knowledgeable regarding cultures and customs of many places.
The writing style is marvelous, with a clear language, impressive vocabulary and good word choices. I no longer begrudged the narrative having reverted to flashbacks that slowed the pace at times. A few errors slipped past the editors’ gaze, but these did not impair my reading enjoyment. It will still be 4 out of 4 stars for this novel. I will recommend this to adult readers of fiction. Young readers who are not yet over the age of consent may be corrupted by the sexual contents. Women should not read this, lest they might emulate Hannah Kaplan Wallace or Marian Willis Vogel in the novel.
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