three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-HumanCapitalReal estate broker Drew Hagel is struggling to hold on to his middle-class lifestyle in rapidly gentrifying Totten Crossing, Connecticut, when the slick Quint Manning crosses his path. Quint’s hedge fund offers Drew the opportunity to cash in on the prosperity of the Roaring ‘90s, and the fact that his teenage daughter Shannon once dated Quint’s son gives Drew an in. The two teenagers have problems of their own, of which their money-minded parents are unaware. Human Capital chips away at Totten Crossing’s veneer of comfortable domesticity, revealing a town that is far from carefree.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 375 pages. $24. ISBN: 0374173508

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Faustian bargains in Human Capital speak to a loss of community and meaning. The surviving relationships suggest that both remain possible." Carlo Wolff

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"There’s a hard-edged glibness that creeps into this narrative now and then, but it can’t spoil the effect of Amidon’s deep sympathy. The key to his success—besides a very clever plot—is a collection of characters who approach but defy the easy clichés of class." Ron Charles

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The best things about Human Capital derive from [Amidon’s] skills as a reporter and social commentator. He has learned a great deal about a great many things—hedge funds, real estate, the executive limo business, school fundraising, you name it—and this knowledge embeds the novel in the real world of middle- and upper-middle-class America with an authenticity that few contemporary novels achieve, embedded as they so often are in their own authors’ psyches." Jonathan Yardley

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The adults in the novel are generally self-centered and irresponsible, but understandably shallow. It’s a setup that gets the reader rooting for the good guys, who are also flawed." Robin Vidimos

Hartford Courant 3 of 5 Stars
"There is quality to Amidon’s storytelling, if not the writing itself, which seems forced at times. Just as you think this novel is degenerating into a soap opera, it strikes home again—almost as if the lulling is intended, the better to strike deeper chords." James T. Cain

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Human Capital grounds a melodramatic, soap-opera-ish plot in meticulously observed social details, its relentless pacing in some shrewd psychological insights. And Mr. Amidon proves himself a nimble storyteller, providing the reader with a solid, literate and consistently compelling tale." Michiko Kakutani

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"[C]haracters are distinguished by the things they choose to buy. … They go to Starbucks for coffee and to Subway for sandwiches while their betters are cooked for in kitchens featuring Sub-Zeroes and Cuisinarts, trademarks the narrative requires to do too much of the work of creating settings and personalities." Deborah Friedell

Critical Summary

Human Capital is a novel whose large scope belies its small setting. Several critics praised Amidon (The New City and Subdivision) for moving beyond the well-trodden paths of suburban angst, creating instead unique characters whose troubles connect them to the wider world. Though the plot may get frothy at times, most reviewers felt that Amidon balanced its twists with keen observations that gave the novel social import. One critic found the novel shallow, but hers is a dissenting voice. Consensus pronounces Human Capital if not a classic, at least a very good read.