Trust has one question at its heart: Who was Mildred Bevel? In Hernan Diaz's engrossing, high-concept second novel, he takes a four-part approach to answering the question: a short novel, an unfinished autobiography, a memoir and Mildred's own journal.

In Bonds, a fictionalized version of Mildred's life, novelist Harold Vanner has renamed her Helen and her New York financier husband Benjamin. Referring to Benjamin's standing after the stock market crash of 1929, Vanner writes, "Only one man seemed to have been immune to the catastrophe." As Benjamin proceeds to multiply his assets, Helen's "quiet form of mania" grows so debilitating that he takes her to a sanatorium in Switzerland for treatment.

Benjamin comes across so atrociously in Vanner's novel that Mildred's husband, Andrew, on whom Benjamin is based, undertakes a score-settling autobiography, My Life. A rough draft of Andrew's book immediately follows Bonds and reads like a spluttering self-justification. Trust's third section--A Memoir, Remembered--reveals that My Life was co-written by Ida Partenza, a secretary Andrew hired to help him with the book. Young Ida, like the reader, wants to learn the truth about Mildred's fate. However, it's not until decades later that she finally begins her memoir and detective work.

While Diaz (In the Distance) doesn't offer an effortless ride for readers who have no head for business, underneath the shoptalk is an exhilarating, unarticulated debate between Andrew Bevel's Randian individualism and the ideology that Ida learned from her Italian-immigrant anarchist father. Inevitably, Mildred has something to say about all this in the novel's fourth section, which comprises her heartbreaking--and, given her destiny, heartbreakingly named--journal, Futures. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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