A Wall Street power player must navigate complicated family relationships in this poignant novel.
A Wall Street money manager tries to reconnect with her estranged relatives while weathering the 2008 financial meltdown in What She Knew, Nadine Galinsky Feldman’s drama about how unexpected adversity can upend our long-held views on work, friends, family, and love.
Liz Nabor has a high-powered job, a luxury apartment overlooking New York City’s Central Park, and a boyfriend with whom she has built a reputation as a power couple. Then, she is summoned to Port Livingston, a bucolic small town in Washington state, where an aunt she walked away from in anger twenty years earlier now lays dying.
As she assesses her life in New York, comparing it to the slow pace of Port Livingston and the new friends she’s met, Liz’s assumptions about what constitutes success are rocked. And when her New York firm is implicated in an investment scam, she learns additional lessons about who in her life has her back, and where good and bad choices have led her.
Feldman is skilled at scene setting, with both New York and Port Livingston vividly painted, the rural and urban lifestyles and natural and man-made topography starkly contrasting. The author also skillfully weaves in real-life headlines from 2008, demonstrating a solidly researched handle on how Wall Street operates. The scandal that Liz’s firm faces is tied, for instance, to the real-life downfall of Bernie Madoff, who was convicted in 2009 of massively defrauding his investors, amounting to billions of dollars in losses.
The cast of characters is full of strong women who defy convention and succeed in careers traditionally dominated by men. However, these women, as well as other characters and situations throughout the book, could have been crafted with more subtlety and originality, infusing more grey into writing that often leans too black and white.
Liz, for instance, isn’t just run-of-the-mill successful, and her boyfriend isn’t merely handsome but “could model men’s clothes.” The book is peppered with other, similar superlatives.
The story also skims through many potentially poignant moments, sacrificing plot depth. And many broader plot threads, including the ebb and flow of a new romance for Liz, could have used more build-up and let-down, waxing and waning less abruptly.
While mostly told through Liz’s eyes, the story is at various times also told via the points of view of at least six other people, which becomes awkward. Even more awkward is the sentence structure, with virtually every line written in forced present tense. The text too often slips into a narrative voice, telling what has happened rather than actively showing characters living through situations.
What She Knew will be enjoyed by those who appreciate romantic drama, or stories in which women break through professional ceilings and characters who get the chance to do something different with their lives. Those who see their own life’s course and choices reflected in What She Knew may find this a poignant, personal read.
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