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Book Review: Long Island Compromise by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Book Review: Long Island Compromise by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

During the 1980s, Carl Fletcher – a millionaire businessman, and polystyrene magnate – is kidnapped from his home and held hostage.  After five agonising days, he’s released when a ransom is paid by his pregnant wife, Ruth. To the outside world, it looked as if everything went back to normal.

Three decades later though, the effects of that trauma have rippled through to Carl and Ruth’s children (and Carl himself has never been the same). Beamer, a hedonistic, hackish Hollywood screenwriter, can’t stop writing about kidnappings. Nathan, a lawyer afraid to go to trial, is riddled with an anxiety that pervades every part of his and his young family’s lives. And Jenny, a mere foetus when her father’s kidnapping occurred, has never been able to find a solid footing in the world, despite her smarts and enormous financial privilege.

Yes, the fact these ‘kids’ have an unimaginable financial safety net has long been the sole thing keeping their precarious lives in order. When an unexpected incident threatens to cut a hole in that net, however, chaos reigns.

With her second novel, Long Island Compromise, Taffy Brodesser-Akner achieves the not-inconsiderable feat of making us feel empathy for some horrendously wealthy people who do not really deserve it; comparisons to Succession are inevitable, especially as a TV series has already been commissioned. While its difficult to relate to the gilded milieu of the Fletchers, the problems they encounter – inherited trauma, addiction, crippling anxiety, existential angst – are a lot more understandable, and Brodesser-Akner approaches them with a deft compassion; her descriptions of living with anxiety, in particular, are breath-catchingly acute.

What makes her tonal deftness all the more impressive is that she’s able to balance this compassion with an ever-present awareness that the Fletchers are, to borrow a turn of phrase from Succession, “not serious people”. She’s quick to puncture any sojourns into self-pity, acknowledging that these are heirs who have squandered all the considerable opportunities they’ve had on the altars of vanity and avarice. When she casually, deliciously drops the real identity of Carl’s kidnapper towards the end of the book, it feels like a warped piece of justice of the kind that is hard to find in the rest of these pages, and indeed, in the outside world.

If there was one accusation to level at Long Island Compromise, it’s that the novel does perhaps run unnecessarily long. That the Fletchers don’t change over the course of the action is part of the whole point of the book, and yet at the same time, to be stuck with an unyielding hedonist in self-destruct mode like Beamer for 130 pages can get a little wearing, no matter how dextrous and witty Brodesser-Akner’s prose is. And take the use of ‘action’ in that sentence with a pinch of salt – character very much takes precedence over narrative propulsion here, which can make the reading process slow-going.

Still, that Brodesser-Akner is able to pull off her tonal balancing act as well as she does for as long as she does speaks to her immense skill as a novelist. It’ll be intriguing to see what she does next.


Long Island Compromise is published by Wildfire on 9 July 2024

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