Synopses & Reviews
On Wall Street, reflects Cath, women are about as welcome as fleas in a sleeping bag. Funny, liberal and left-leaning, she is an unlikely candidate to be writing speeches on derivatives in a Manhattan tower, 'putting words in the mouths of plutocrats deeply suspicious of metaphors and words of more than two syllables'. She finds herself on Wall Street because she needs serious money. After ten good years, her beloved older husband Bailey is suffering from Alzheimer's.So begins Cath's journey into two nightmare worlds. By day she deals with the topsy-turvy logic and ingrown personalities at work in high finance; by night she has to watch the slow disintegration of the man she loves. In between, she must stop herself from falling apart. As the money markets hurtle towards financial meltdown, Cath faces personal disaster and a moral hazard that she cannot ignore.Kate Jennings' prose is lean yet rich in unexpected, telling detail. Tense, taut and compulsively readable, Moral Hazard is peopled by extraordinary characters and informed by a mordant, witty intelligence.
"This short, self-assured novel...brilliantly depicts the complicated life of a working woman on Wall Street during the dot-com boom....An ideal subway read for smart working men and women, it masterfully documents the culture of economic and corporate arrogance, while never losing sight of the human cost of such hubris." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Sharp, spare, and utterly unsentimental, Kate Jennings' Moral Hazard lays out, in its meticulously composed 175 pages, the definitive treatment of contemporary workplace alienation....Jennings strikes exactly the right balance between satire and compassion, seeing her characters as flawed human beings and yet rendering them with scalpel-like precision....The wittiest stroke of Moral Hazard is that Jennings understands the insularity of an industry that commands so much money, power and influence....The sections on Cath's dealing with her husband's disease...imprint themselves on your mind with the clarity and depth of an indelible hurt. Along with Doris Lessing's The Sweetest Dream, this is the finest novel I've read this year. The gift of both books is that they are deeply personal and yet transcend the personal, elucidating a moral vision of the world. Don't let its brevity fool you. Moral Hazard is a big book in the truest sense of the word." Charles Taylor, Salon.com
"Powerful...darkly, disconcertingly comic....Jennings' disturbing and memorable novel builds quietly to its thought-provoking climax." London Sunday Times
"[S]pare, unsettling....[Cath's] loathing of the corporate world is accompanied by her increasing horror at the mental disintegration of her husband; she is disgusted by the greed that surrounds her, but her unsentimental chronicle of the progress of a disease is what makes this fine, short novel almost unbearably sad." The New Yorker
"[S]harp if somewhat aimless....[M]ost of the office scenes are quickly upstaged by the drama of Bailey's decline and fall an account of real pathos that sits ill-at-ease with the sarcastic portrait of corporate venality. Odd pastiche of elegy and parody: an intelligent and at times genuinely moving story that seems afraid to take itself seriously." Kirkus Reviews
"Jennings' best work yet....By turns savage and heartbreaking....Jennings has a strong feminist voice, and her book is a testament to human resilience." Paul Evans, Book Magazine
"[A] timely, exquisitely written novel....Jennings manages to intertwine the fates of both Bailey and the investment bank in a contemporary morality tale told with caustic wit." Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist
"Whip-smart, knowing and wry." People
"Compelling reading: Cath's thorny humor adapts itself well to both terminal illness and terminal greed." Jennifer Egan, The New York Observer
"Intelligent, quietly passionate...true to life, and Kate Jennings tells it unflinchingly." Washington Post Book World
Welcome to the jungle of lower Manhattan: it's the mid-1990s on Wall Street and 40-something freelance writer Cath has just taken a job as a corporate speech-writer in order to support an older husband suffering from Alzheimer's.
A self-proclaimed "bedrock feminist" and "garden-variety fatalist" who would "rather eat garden worms" than be sentimental, Cath is tortured by Bailey's mental and physical deterioration while she struggles to survive desperate office politics, the mad-math of finance, and the realization that "moral hazard" applies to the dementia consuming her personal and professional lives.
Savage and heartbreaking, Moral Hazard is a wry look at greed and alienation in the workplace, "a love story about the saddest way for love to end" (Newsday), and a timely, exquisitely written novel about failure and human resilience.
In the world of high finance, reflects Cath, women are about as welcome as fleas in a sleeping bag. She's in a unique position to note this fact. A confirmed liberal who can scarcely contain her own sarcastic wit, she is a spy in the house of Mammon: a speechwriter for self-important plutocrats, disguising their greed with lulling words. Cath has found herself on Wall Street because she needs serious money. After ten good years, her beloved husband, Bailey, is suffering from a tragically early case of Alzheimer's.
So begins Cath's journey into two nightmare worlds. Caught between them, she must grasp at whatever will keep her from falling apart -- even if that means risking moral hazard.
Kate Jennings' prose is lean yet rich in telling detail. Tense and compulsively readable, Moral Hazard reveals the soap-bubble fragility of this closed world and the steely strength of the people who inhabit it.
Savage and heartbreaking, "Moral Hazard" is a wry look at greed and alienation in the workplace, "a love story about the saddest way for love to end" ("Newsday"), and a timely, exquisitely written novel about failure and human resilience.
Wall Street, the mid-1990s. Gargantuan egos, fabulous vainglory, juicy hypocrisy. Cath, an ex-sixties radical, takes a job as a corporate speechwriter in order to support Bailey, her husband, who has Alzheimers. She cuts through byzantine office politics and masters mad-math finance but has to confront the realization that shes in a moral maze of love and loathing as the world of banking runs, like Baileys poor mind, wildly out of control.
About the Author
Kate Jennings, who grew up in rural Australia, has lived in New York City since 1979. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed novel Snake, as well as a number of volumes of poetry, essays, and stories. During the nineties she worked as an executive speech writer at several Wall Street investment banks.
Reading Group Guide
When Cath, weaned on 1960s left-wing values, learns her beloved
husband, Bailey, has Alzheimer's, she takes a job as a Wall Street
speechwriter to pay for his care. The sharp-tongued narrative that
follows juxtaposes Bailey's decline with Cath's journey into the
amoral depths of the high finance world, leaving us to wonder which
part of her life is less deranged. With a workplace that flouts
her values, and her husband's health forcing her to make difficult
decisions about his fate, Cath faces moral hazards at every turn.
Jennings' second novel is both a piercing satire and a song of loss.
Things to think about and discuss:
1. What moral hazards does Cath face? Why are they especially hazardous
2. Cath describes herself as a "bedrock feminist, unreconstructed
left-winger," who is "for civility and a sense of humor, against
anyone who had stopped listening, receiving, changing." Is this
an accurate description of Cath? Does she hold true to her stated
values throughout the novel?
3. Moral Hazard alternates between accounts of Bailey's
disintegration and descriptions of Wall Street life. Are both aspects
of the novel equally compelling? Do they work with or against each
4. Some critics complain of the novel's brevity. Is its brevity
a weakness or a strength? Are there aspects of Cath's story that
make it particularly suitable for a short treatment? Are there elements
that could benefit from more elaboration?
Notes by Jennifer
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