Monday, August 20, 2018

Books: "The Hazards Of Good Fortune" By Seth Greenland

The Hazards Of Good Fortune
By Seth Greenland
Europa Editions, paperback, 624 pages, $20.00, available Tuesday, August 21

Award-winning author, playwright, and screenwriter Seth Greenland has the unique ability to create deeply tragic characters and infuse their stories with a potent blend of humor, compassion, and scathing satire. His previous novels The Bones, Shining City, I Regret Everything, and The Angry Buddhist have garnered critical acclaim and legions of fans worldwide.

Greenland's new novel, The Hazards Of Good Fortune, focuses on a witty, heartbreaking, and unflinching tale in which generations, races, and religions intersect and clash.

A lifelong NBA fan who grew up in New York, Greenland attended Knicks games at Madison Square Garden from a young age, and adopted the Clippers when he moved to Los Angeles.

When Clippers owner Donald Sterling was forced to sell the team due to racially insensitive comments, Greenland, in the role of storyteller, wondered what would happen if an NBA team owner found himself in a Sterling-like situation but, unlike the real-life inspiration, maybe wasn't racist at all. What if this owner was the unfortunate victim of a massive and very public misunderstanding?

The Hazards Of Good Fortune is nominally set in the world of professional basketball, but it addresses sweeping issues of class, race, religion, money, and family dynamics.

By setting the work in New York City and neighboring Westchester, Greenland returns to his Jewish roots and the place of his birth with a landscape that is both deeply personal and emblematic of a sharply defined time when social attitudes were shifting rapidly. The prominent Jewish real estate families he remembered from growing up there in the 1970s were the models for the Gladstones, the family at the book’s center.

The family’s head, Jay Gladstone, is heir to a massive real estate fortune and owns an NBA team, so he presides over a multi-racial workforce. He would rather not think about issues of race or privilege, as he is busy enough managing a rocky second marriage and an increasingly strained relationship with his liberal daughter.

Gladstone's world is not far removed from that of Dag Maxwell, the African-American star basketball player on the team he owns, or of Russell Plesko, a white cop whose decision one normal morning has consequences that reshape a number of lives.

Gladstone is a man with good intentions, but in a fit of pique he utters words that are misinterpreted, and when they go viral, he finds himself accused of being a racist.

Jay discovers all too late that his past good deeds aren’t going to redeem him in the eyes of the public.

The vivid, diverse cast of characters whose lives converge and conflict in this captivating novel exposes important questions about race, wealth, and the American justice system.

Larry David of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fame, gave The Hazards Of Good Fortune high praise, calling it "a wild and funny page-turner of a novel that grabs you and doesn’t let go. I still have bruises.”

The Hazards Of Good Fortune is about how we define what it means to be good, and how being good is never simple. Is Jay Gladstone an avatar of white privilege or a Job for our time? Is he a good guy? These are questions that Greenland hopes readers will ponder.

Seth Greenland On Why He Wrote The Hazards Of Good Fortune:

Seth Greenland.
I began work on what became The Hazards Of Good Fortune in 2011 shortly after I finished a two-year stint as a writer/producer on the HBO drama Big Love and wanted to write about a family that was not polygamous Mormons. I've always been fascinated by 1970's New York City, where I moved when I got out of college. I worked as a feature writer for The SoHo Weekly News, and the stories I wrote took me all over the city - which, although culturally vibrant, was falling apart. In 1975, with the city on the verge of bankruptcy, the civic-minded heads of several real estate families (almost all of them Jewish sons of Russian immigrants) banded together to pay their taxes in advance so the city wouldn't go bankrupt. These multi-generational families put their names on libraries, university buildings, and hospitals but did not seek celebrity. These families were the models for the Gladstones, the family at the center of The Hazards Of Good Fortune.

My father died in 2011. He wanted to be a writer. Instead, he became a successful advertising executive in New York City who weathered the storms of the 1970s. The heads of these families were his peers and he knew them socially. I went to high school with some of their kids; kids who have now inherited their businesses. To my knowledge, no novelist had written about one of these families. They are immigrant success stories; people who have achieved great power in American society in an arena whose inner workings remain largely unknown to the public. When I was in high school, I had a summer job at my father's agency, and every day we drove into the city through the Bronx and Harlem. In the novel, I drew on memories of those conversations and on my impressions of the whole graffiti-splattered vanished city. Writing about my father's world was a way for me to spend time with him.

The book depicts the racial kaleidoscope of our era. I have been fascinated by black American culture since I was in high school. Read Eldridge Cleaver in the eighth grade. Was obsessed by blues musicians, worshiped basketball players, particularly the playground legends. Getting to interview Kareem Adbul-Jabbar in my role as the host of the Los Angeles Review of Books Radio Hour was a life highlight for a New York kid. These interests in the context of 2018 have become retroactively problematic. To some, they smack of "festishisizing" or "othering." There are well-meaning people who think a writer who is not a member of a particular group lacks "standing" to write about that group. There are black characters in The Hazards Of Good Fortune, along with Jews, Italians, Russians, and WASPs. It's a New York novel, for god sakes. One of the main characters is an NBA player.

I've been a diehard NBA fan since I was a kid, attended Knicks games in Madison Square Garden and now I suffer with the Clippers in Los Angeles. A few years ago, I became obsessed with the Donald Sterling saga, where the Clippers owner was accused of being a racist, primarily because he was one. The NBA rightly booted him out. The novelist in me asked what if one of these latter day Jewish tycoons, like the kind I grew up around, found himself in a Sterling-like situation, but maybe undeservedly. What if he wasn't a racist? Mark Twain said a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can pull its pants on.

The protagonist of The Hazards Of Good Fortune is a good guy. Mostly. And then he says something that gets misinterpreted. We're in a cultural moment now where people are confused about who is allowed to say what. #MeToo and Black Lives Matter are ascendant. Power structures are being challenged. Our society is at an inflection point, and this seemed like the right time to pull on my rubber boots and wade into the national conversation.

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