“Beha tackles finance, faith, war, entitlement, and no end of self-destructive acts. I greatly admired both the writing and the ambition.” —Ann Patchett
A New York Times Editors’ Choice
Longlisted for the National Book Award
Finalist for the Gotham Book Prize
A Best Book of the Year at Kirkus, The Christian Science Monitor, Library Journal, and BuzzFeed
What makes a life, Sam Waxworth sometimes wondered—self or circumstance?
On the day Sam Waxworth arrives in New York to write for the Interviewer, a street-corner preacher declares that the world is coming to an end. A data journalist and recent media celebrity—he correctly forecast every outcome of the 2008 election—Sam knows a few things about predicting the future. But when projection meets reality, life gets complicated.
His first assignment for the Interviewer is a profile of disgraced political columnist Frank Doyle, known to Sam for the sentimental works of baseball lore that first sparked his love of the game. When Sam meets Frank at Citi Field for the Mets’ home opener, he finds himself unexpectedly ushered into Doyle’s crumbling family empire. Kit, the matriarch, lost her investment bank to the financial crisis; Eddie, their son, hasn’t been the same since his second combat tour in Iraq; Eddie’s best friend from childhood, the fantastically successful hedge funder Justin Price, is starting to see cracks in his spotless public image. And then there’s Frank’s daughter, Margo, with whom Sam becomes involved—just as his wife, Lucy, arrives from Wisconsin. While their lives seem inextricable, none of them know how close they are to losing everything, including each other.
Sweeping in scope yet meticulous in its construction, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts is a remarkable family portrait and a masterful evocation of New York City and its institutions. Over the course of a single baseball season, Christopher Beha traces the passing of the torch from the old establishment to the new meritocracy, exploring how each generation’s failure helped land us where we are today. Whether or not the world is ending, Beha’s characters are all headed to apocalypses of their own making.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In the same way that Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities defined New York in the 1980s, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts captures the city at the dawn of the Obama era. Statistician Sam Waxworth—a newly minted internet celebrity thanks to his shockingly accurate predictions about the 2008 presidential election—has just moved from Wisconsin to Manhattan to work at a venerable magazine. His first assignment is profiling his onetime childhood hero: conservative political pundit Frank Doyle, whose lengthy career has recently been torpedoed by a racist outburst. Despite his best judgment, Sam finds himself captivated by the relentlessly charismatic Frank and his family—particularly his impetuous daughter, Margo. Novelist Christopher Beha introduces us to a sprawling cast of characters, which he uses to skillfully explore themes of shame, ambition, anxiety, and how every relationship boils down to somebody wanting something from somebody else. When future generations want to get a feel for post-9/11, pre-Trump America, this will be one of the books they reach for.
In this gripping family saga, Beha (The Whole Five Feet) sets a cast of New Yorkers on a path to ruin during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Sam Waxworth is a data journalist who has become famous for the program he designed that accurately predicted much of the 2008 election results, including Obama's meteoric rise to the presidency. As a result, he is offered a plum job at Interviewer magazine in New York and leaves his wife in Wisconsin, where she is finishing her last year of special education study. After his first articles for the publication go viral, he's assigned to write a profile of Frank Doyle, a disgraced, left-wing turned right-wing political opinion writer. As Sam conducts his reporting, he becomes enmeshed with the Doyle family. Kit, Frank's wife, is reeling from the collapse of her private investment bank. Eddie, their son and an Army veteran, suffers from PTSD after having served in Iraq. And Sam starts up a romantic relationship with 23-year-old Margo, Eddie's sister and an aspiring academic, just as his wife decides to pay Sam a visit from Wisconsin. Filled with stunning acts of hubris and betrayal, Beha's deliciously downbeat novel picks apart the zeitgeist, revealing a culture of schemers and charlatans. This cutting send-up of New York progressive elitism should do much to expand Beha's audience.
Brilliant, engaging treatise on human folly
Like Bonfire of the Vanities, this novel exposes the follies of modern society and the arrogance and self-delusions of human nature. But unlike Bonfire, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts does this without glee or sharp-edged satire. All of the characters are sympathetically drawn and fully developed, which is not to say their follies withstand the earthquakes that Beha sends their way — far from it. Beha roughs them up pretty good, to put it mildly. The book is deeply satisfying both as drama and as an intellectual exercise. Here, reason battles faith, data battles emotion, and logic battles ethics. To me, Beha achieves through traditional plot and story what Doctorow tried to achieve (with less success) through monologue in City of God. I burned through this book, marveling at its depth of meaning and narrative skill. The ending achieves a transcendent bulls eye. Suffice it to say, I loved this book. Highly recommend.