To be discerning requires things of us that our world actively seeks to prevent. Our world of advanced modernity requires quick turn-around; steady productivity; efficient response; what feels right; data. In sharp contrast, discernment requires slow living; unhurried time for reflection; wide reading; self discipline; ancient wisdom. And to make matters worse, the world goads us into its lifestyle not through torture but through entertainment.
By wide reading I mean we need to read both sides of a position or policy—the best argued, most thorough sides by the most thoughtful advocates—before we come to our own conclusion. As St. Augustine said, “Hear the other side.”
In the novel, Trust, Hernan Diaz demonstrates why this is so essential. (Don’t read Trust for the demonstration, read it for what it is, a captivating story.) Diaz’s novel is divided into four sections, each essentially telling the same story. The time is the 1920-1930’s, and Andrew Bevel is a legendary financier on Wall Street. He and his wife, Mildred, are enormously wealthy and well-known, so much so that a novel is written that doesn’t mention their names but everyone in New York knows is actually about them. This novel is the first of Diaz’s sections in Trust. It is believable and persuasive, and by the final page we feel that we know the Bevels well.
What follows are three other sections, each in a different voice—a response to the novel by Andrew Bevel, a memoir by the ghostwriter, and a section from Mildred Bevel’s diary. Each is equally persuasive and interesting and by the final page our view of the Bevels is completely upended. And we wonder why we imagined the earlier version seemed so plausible.
I am not suggesting that Trust was written to make a point. It is not a fable with a moral. It’s well written, enjoyable as fiction, and cleverly plotted so that a story about a couple unfolds rather like a mystery. But it makes a point nevertheless, and the point is a vital one: Be slow in coming to conclusions.
And always, always seek to hear the other side.
Novel recommended: Trust by Hernan Diaz (New York, NY: Riverhead Books; 2022) 402 pages.
Photo credit: The author with his trusty iPhone.