To enjoy “The Altruists,” you will need to get past the disgusting fact that the wise, witty book was written by someone who was about 27 when he completed it (author Andrew Ridker was born in 1991). In the tradition of Stephen McCauley and Elinor Lipman, “The Altruists” is a comic novel about a family whose members are not just stuck in ruts but have fallen into ruts and then piled mounds of stuckness on top of themselves.
Arthur Alter is the patriarch, a widower and failing professor who is about to lose the family’s St. Louis home. Son Ethan has squandered the potential he showed when he graduated from college eight years earlier, and daughter Maggie, a more recent graduate, is following Ethan’s non-career non-path. Both resent their father’s behavior before and after the death of their beloved mother, so there’s lots to unpack when Arthur invites them home for an awkward reconciliation attempt.
Ridker is preternaturally smart about the traps that even bright people set for themselves, he loves all of his messed-up characters and he finds hopeful-but-not-unrealistic ways for them to live their better, if not best, lives.