‘Moral Hazard’ hits an insight bunker

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‘Moral Hazard’ hits an insight bunker

Kate Jennings’s second novel, “Moral Hazard” was met with generally good reviews when it was published last year and, indeed, the slim volume has much to recommend it. Her protagonist, Cath, has taken a speechwriter’s job at a Wall Street investment bank; she needs “serious money” because her husband, 35 years her senior, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Jennings wittily pokes fun at the pomposity and self-assurance of the bankers she herself worked with once in real life, although the bankers, with one exception, seem more like cardboard cutouts than real people. Of course, 175 pages is not a length that lends itself to character development.
In her personal life, Cath watches with concern that sometimes seems to border on clinical indifference as her husband deteriorates. Finally, against his will and breaking her promise to him, she moves him to a nursing home. When he is hospitalized for a medical crisis, his living will calling for no heroic life-saving efforts is ignored by the hospital staff. Guilt-ridden about his suffering, Cath turns to the contemplation of assisted suicide.
There is opportunity here for a comparison of moral hazard in finance and in private lives, but the book is ultimately unsatisfying in trying to draw that comparison. The business equivalent of her husband’s illness is the bank’s exposure to repudiated Russian debt, but that crisis comes on suddenly and the way the bank handles it is what you would expect of cardboard cutouts. More than anything, what is missing here is a link between the episodes of her private and her personal lives that would illustrate her point that the world is full of morally ambiguous choices. Witty writing alone cannot lead a reader to close the book with a sense of satisfaction.

by John Hoog
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