Stacey d’Erasmo’s novel The Complicities looks at the fallout of financial fraud through the lives of a handful of characters. When the novel opens, Suzanne is beginning a new life following the imprisonment of her white collar criminal husband Alan for fraud. She moves to Chesham, a Massachusetts beach town, changes her name and tries to find a way to support herself. Suzanne’s new life isn’t easy, plus “her entire life vanished” when her husband was arrested and subsequently imprisoned. The money, the status, the mansion–all gone.
People have lots of opinions, and they say you destroyed their family’s future, but did anyone care about our family and what was happening to us? Why were we suddenly the bad guys?’
Suzanne, while professing not to ‘understand’ money matters, asks herself “how big was his [Alan’s] crime?” Suzanne doesn’t think about Alan’s victims yet she expects people to think about her position:
I’m not saying he didn’t commit a crime; he did things with people’s money that you aren’t really supposed to do, he’d been doing it a long time, and he got caught.
With a “little money” and two suitcases, she trades in her expensive, flashy car for an old Honda which “provided great cover.” She uses her maiden name, rents a dump, prints out a fake certificate from the internet and starts a massage business.
I mean, look: sure, you can call me complicit, but there’s complicit and complicit, isn’t there? It isn’t only one label than explains everything in every situation. There isn’t complicity but complicities, errors of different sizes, plus there are other factors, choices that in hindsight maybe weren’t right, but in the moment it seemed different. Other people have done a lot worse things. Pol Pot. Drug cartels. Sex traffickers.
Hmmm… Suzanne comparing herself favorably to Pol Pot. …
Part of the novel is Suzanne’s new life, her rejection of collect calls from Alan, and her son’s rejection of her. Her life is a slow hard climb just to pay the bills and keep the lights on. As time passes, Suzanne, as narrator, adds Lydia to the tale, the woman Alan meets when he is released from prison. Just as Suzanne skirts the details of her knowledge and involvement in Alan’s crimes, Alan has a constructed a narrative, for Lydia, for what went wrong:
That was when he crossed some lines, but basically, it was all a slow-motion cry for help. He’d had a lot of time in prison to think and read the great philosophers again (again?), and he could see that now. He had always spent so much time taking case of other people, trying to fulfill their expectations even to the point of going to prison himself for it. His need to please, to be the hero, had cost him everything.
Boo hoo. Alan knows how to pick ’em. Later in the novel, the story moves to include Alan’s mother and her role, or complicity, in her son’s approach to life. Ultimately, tangled associations stain and mold our lives and decisions. I enjoyed the novel for its complex approach to moral responsibility, and how love, trust and loyalty are elastically stretched until complicity takes over. I love to read books about how characters deal with money–not just how they spend it, but how the promise of money, the thought of money, lots of it, influences actions and makes people run off the rails.