A disclaimer up front: I bailed on this book about 20% of the way through. So take this review for what it’s worth.
I should have loved this book but I didn’t. I love economics. I love the debate.
Let’s face it, the material can be esoteric. While I have some economic education I found myself swimming in rough waters at times in this book. The writer didn’t guide us through the various viewpoints so much as clip a paragraph from Keynes then clip another paragraph from Hayek with a counterpoint. The problem with these is that the two economists were writing to and for other economists. It’s not the easiest lingo to understand in 1930 much less after 80 years has passed.
The book started promisingly enough for me. The two economists alone on top of a building at night assigned to watch for German bombers. From my limited knowledge the two men could not have been more different but more alike in many ways. I wish that was explored more. Maybe it was in the final 80% or so but I just couldn’t push through to find out.
I’m not a military guy. I’ve no interest in military things. I respect them and value what they do. I stand when those who serve or have served parade by and upon meeting them I, to paraphrase Prince Hal, hold my manhood cheap.
But if I was given short notice that I was being tossed into battle to fight forces aligned against my country I’d want to make sure I had Pandora’s Grave loaded onto my Kindle. Re-reading it would give me a sense of what I was about to go up against. There’s is such a profound sense of realism in this novel that I’m agog at the amount of research that must have went into it. We’re accustomed to suspending belief when reading or watching fiction – especially in spy/thriller tales but not once did I feel Stephen England was asking me to. This felt like what those men tasked with covert ops must go through. That’s not only a sign of respect to the soldiers England writes about but a deep sign of respect to the intelligence of his reader.
Other signs of respect to the reader? An original plot that reaches back into history and writing that is direct and vivid with an economy of words that is a reflection on the stoicism of the type of men he writes about.
The sign of a good book for me is one that sticks with you over time. I have a feeling this will be one of them. Whether I’m reading about an archaeological dig in the middle east or another report of another explosion in that region my thoughts will wander back to Pandora’s Grave and the dangers the world faces and the men who silently thwart those dangers time and again.
In the novel the title character is described by the matriarch of a prominent family as pushy.
Mrs. Palmer settled the whole case of Alice carelessly. “A pushing sort of girl,” she said. “A very pushing little person.”
That pushing is the fatal flaw of the Adams family. But it doesn’t reside in Alice’s heart but her mothers. She’s a mother that believes she deserves more and is pushing her family members to get it – whatever that is – for her.
While titled after the daughter I felt as if the novel is about the mother and how her pushing destroyed her family.
She pushes her husband, a kind, appreciative man with no business acumen, into committing a moral if not a legal crime in the launch of a new business. The husband has just recovered from a long unidentifiable sickness and is on the far side of middle age. But his wife pushes.
She pushes her son, a young man just starting in life, against his nature. The son is a bit of a free spirit. His mother pushes him to be what his father wasn’t: a man of business and respectability. Her son just wants to shoot dice and have a good time before the shadow of adult responsibility falls over him.
Then there’s Alice. Much like Willie Loman to Biff she puffs Alice up and constructs grand dreams. She wants Alice to join their town’s high society and not marry some mere trades men. But their family is middle-class at best. It’s a fact felt deeply by both Alice and her mother but they somehow feel themselves entitled to enter the higher society. So they both push.
This pushing leads to deception and repels those that would welcome the Adams just as they are. It destroys the husband’s career. It destroys the son’s prospects. And it destroys a budding romance Alice had with a man who would have loved her just as she was.
Alice, in the end, figures this out. She comes to terms with it and begins the process of earning her way into whatever level she’ll obtain instead of pushing her way into it. Her mother, unfortunately, keeps pushing til the end.