The Darlings tells a fictional tale about the downfall of a hedge fund and the wealthy family that owns it during Wall Street’s 2008 meltdown, but many aspects of the novel are drawn straight from author Cristina Alger’s reality.
As a former Goldman Sachs analyst and bankruptcy attorney at a white-shoe law firm in New York, Alger knew that the twists and turns that led to many a Wall Street fiasco could make for a fascinating story.
“It’s easy to see finance as something that happens in a conference room, but white-collar crime is fascinating,” Alger said. “No one’s dying or no cars are blowing up, but it’s incredibly fast-paced and interesting and complex.”
The Darlings, which was released on Monday in the US, is one of the first works of fiction centered on the events of the 2008 financial crisis.
The book begins with an apparent suicide, which sets off a series of investigations and coverups by a web of characters that includes lawyers, financiers, government officials and journalists.
The dynamics and loyalties of the blue-blooded Darling family that runs the hedge fund, founded by patriarch and billionaire Carter Darling, are also thrown into tumult as the foundation of the family’s wealth and status is threatened.
Alger, 31, knows a thing or two about family businesses: Her family founded prominent New York investment firm Fred Alger Management. In addition to her professional experience, she said that she also drew on her family background to write the book.
“I grew up going to my dad’s office and family dinners were filled with chatter about work life,” she said. “One of the things I tried to draw from in The Darlings was the sense that the whole family was involved in the business and the demise of the business in their case was really like the demise of the family as a whole.”
As Alger tried to make sense of the corporate scandals she witnessed as an attorney, she found that chalking up bad behavior to mere greed did not quite get to the root of such scandals. As she pondered what could drive some investors to such extreme corruption, she found her thoughts circling back to family loyalties.
“One of the fun parts of writing the book for me was trying to get into the minds of people who caused huge amounts of damage professionally and try to understand what their motivations were for the way they acted,” she said.
The urge to protect and provide for children, parents and spouses factor powerfully into the professional decisions of all characters in The Darlings, from CEO Carter Darling to whistle-blowing secretary, Yvonne.
“I had deep affection for all my characters and did not like to see anyone as purely bad or purely good,” she said.
Alger said that another element in the collapse of firms such as Lehman Brothers and American International Group Inc was the widespread bending of rules by those high up in Wall Street’s steel towers. This is reflected in the story as the Darling family scrambles to perform damage control once they become aware of the firm’s problems.
“I think there were two sets of rules that were operating during that period,” Alger said. “There were the rules that were on the books and then there were the rules that were market-wide practice, and what a lot of people realized was that market-wide practice wasn’t always legal.”