Concise and clear-eyed, forthright and fearless all aptly describe the lucid prose of Australian writer Kate Jennings whose first novel, Snake, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She possesses a gift for taut imagery: "The house of illness is papered with euphemisms." Or, "...his promises exited his mind backward, like tottering geishas."
With "Moral Hazard" Ms. Jennings offers, if you will, a morality/mortality tale in which the madness of the world of high finance (appropriate considering Enron) and the delusional states of Alzheimer's disease stand cheek by jowl, emphasizing the similarities.
Cath, a freelance writer in her forties, is happily married to Bailey, a creative soul in his mid sixties. "He was always doing, always curious," she says. "He surrounded me with warmth." When he is diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer's it becomes quickly apparent that she cannot provide the care he will need on their current income.
Therefore she finds work at Niedecker on Wall Street although she is "an unlikely candidate for the job of executive speechwriter, to be putting words in the mouths of plutocrats deeply suspicious of metaphors and words of more than two syllables."
Cath's guide through the miasma of high finance and cutthroat office maneuvering is Mike, a caustic, voluble risk manager. The two became friends on the day of Nixon's funeral, which was declared a holiday on Wall Street. Mike's tutelage proves invaluable, as he advises her to stop bucking the firm lest she be broken. "Round off your sharp edges," he counsels, "Turn yourself into an anthropologist."
At home she faces the inevitability of Bailey's decline. Initially anti-psychotic medicine is prescribed. Then, after consulting a line up of professionals Cath determines that Bailey must be relegated to a nursing home. He, of course, cries, weeps, "recoiling in horror,,,,,beyond comfort" when he is left in "...a place where behavior was infantile, instincts animal. A place of last things."
In due time, while he never makes peace with his surroundings, Bailey does make a friend in the home. She is Dolly, another Alzheimer's patient with a penchant for brilliant colors and black patent leather shoes. When confined to a wheelchair, Bailey finds a second friend in Gwen, a Jamaican private aid hired by Cath. An intuitive caregiver, Gwen lavishes him with affection and treats him with respect.
"Moral Hazard" is a unique story, both moving and incisive as it explores the worlds of trade and sickness with insight, compassion, and humor. A former senior speechwriter at an investment bank, Ms. Jennings well knows of what she writes, and she does it with incomparable precision...