Review: Trust by Hernan Diaz

Reviewed by Josh Zimmerer

Riverhead Books. 2022. 416 pages.

Toward the end of Hernan Diaz’s new novel, Trust, Mildred Bevel—the recurrent dying wife of the novel’s towering figure, Andrew Bevel—contemplates an unseen church bell’s melody, writing that its notes function “like a retrograde or a palindrome.” It ascends and then descends across the same four notes. But then, through analogizing the bell’s melody with the stock market, she reconfigures the palindromic melody, following the same structure but in a different direction. Suddenly, a new melody appears. It retains its shape but returns to a new origin: “a song played in reverse and on its head.”

Nothing succinctly summarizes the hypnotic and elusive quality of Diaz’s novel quite like this. Told through four fictional books—a biographic novel, an unfinished autobiography, a memoir, and a journal—Trust repeatedly examines the life of Andrew Bevel, an early twentieth century stock market billionaire, and his wife Mildred: his prodigious rise as an investor, the couple’s fateful encounter, Mildred’s sudden illness and death, and Andrew’s diminutive fall in stature after his wife’s death. Yet, with each retelling, something new is revealed and even more is obscured. The novel is an ongoing process of myth-making and reinvention, an act even the novel sometimes falls prey to.

A lot of this mythologizing is directed toward Andrew. Was he an advantageous savant who turned meager generational wealth into an incomprehensible fortune, or was he a privileged child of extensive wealth who simply allowed his investments do what they do best, passively fester and grow? Was he an enigmatic recluse or simply someone who prioritized his privacy? A shadow or a man? Diaz pulls from various literary sources to further dramatize these dichotomies. While the novel-within-a-novel casts a disdainful eye upon Bevel, his unfinished autobiography reads like a Gospel of Wealth knock-off, spending more time outli