A family struggles to cope after the death of its matriarch, with each family member funneling their grief into various distractions: consumerism and do-gooderism on the part of the children and—in the case of the father—scheming to overcome financial difficulties.
... intelligent, funny and remarkably assured ... The clash of reunion expectations and the reality of family ties give Ridker an opportunity to write some of the book’s most comedic and moving scenes and, in doing so, to establish himself as a big, promising talent ... Ridker’s satire of ill-conceived do-gooderism is scathing and hilarious, making Maggie both ridiculous and sympathetic ... [Ridker] writes sentences with the lively, poetic zing of one as attuned to the sounds of words as to their meanings ... his descriptions have enough wit and psychological accuracy to make even minor characters spring to multidimensional life ... Ridker’s ambitious blend of global perspective and intimate human comedy seems likely to evoke comparisons to the work of Jonathan Franzen and Nathan Hill ... at times I longed for more unimpeded forward momentum ... On balance, Ridker’s almost psychoanalytic peeling back of layers of time and experience gets to the heart of the family’s dysfunction while creating characters with true depth ... The warm ending opens up the possibility of a bright future for them, which is precisely what this outstanding debut suggests for its talented author.
... Ridker writes with such good humor and graceful irony that he manages to portray Arthur and his kids as people you want to care about, even if you wouldn’t invite them to your house to borrow money ... You might want to wring Arthur’s neck sometimes — lots of times — but Ridker does that for you as he puts Arthur through all sorts of setbacks, followed by comic epiphanies, and regressions. Ridker’s genius is making a generally unlikable character fun to read and gossip about. Quite an accomplishment in a first novel.
... a lively, tragicomic debut novel ... Ridker elevates his book with a sharp eye for the absurdities of contemporary American culture and his characters' irksome pieties, though his ironic sensibility is offset with a good measure of compassion ... Ridker's skillful balancing act between sympathy and satire is on full, fabulous display ... The Altruists boasts numerous charms, ranging from worthy ethical issues treated with an effective wryness to its rare, fond celebration of steamy St. Louis. Its ending is well-earned, and so are its life lessons, adding up to an unusually promising debut.