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.
... 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.
Like Mr. Franzen, Mr. Ridker has a weakness for pop psychology and his characters can come across as one-dimensional manifestations of personality disorders ... The good news is that, unlike its characters, The Altruists has a sense of humor. Mr. Ridker has a gift for comic asides ... For all of the psychoanalysis, Mr. Ridker doesn’t worry too much about affirming resolutions. The fun is in the dysfunction.
The book seems afraid to take the emotional risk of leaving a sardonic mode, which prevents it from attaining the thoughtfulness and pathos of [other books]. The result is attractive, well-made fiction with occasional hollowness ... The [book contains] both sadness and expectation—[it leaves] the reader grazed by tempered hopes.