The Con is On
Con artists, grifters and scammers of all kinds are having a moment this summer, leading this year’s warm weather months to be dubbed the Summer of Scam.
While the real-life stories that have contributed to this season’s label may rival fiction in their intrigue and outsized characters, the following novels can be read as excellent complements -- or alternatives -- to these narratives, possessing as they do the wholeness and variety unique to fiction.
Specifically, the following stories are complete and deliberate in the way that real life cases of the moment cannot be, and they are also set apart by their diversity of setting, tone and narration. Together, these elements provide the opportunity to consider the cons at the hearts of these novels -- and perhaps thereby even scamming as a concept -- both at a remove and with distinct, varied perspectives.The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton
To help keep her family in the lifestyle to which they are accustomed, Brooklyn mom Marion Palm works at her daughters’ private school -- and also embezzles from it. When the school faces an audit, though, Marion panics, grabs $40,000 in cash, and goes on the run, leaving her husband Nathan, teenage daughter Ginny and younger daughter Jane to cope with both her absence and her crime.
The Assistants by Camille Perri
Still an assistant paying off student debt at age 30, Tina Fontana gets an unexpected opportunity via a $20,000 reimbursement error made by her employer, large media company Titan Corporation. Tina considers the significance of the money to her versus her employer -- and keeps it. When fellow assistant Emily catches the error, she wants in, and soon she and Tina are “finding” funds for assistants throughout the company.
The Accidental by Ali Smith
A stranger when she arrives at the Smart family’s vacation cottage in Norfolk, England, thirtysomething Amber manages to talk her way into their home and their lives. She intuits what each member -- mother and blocked writer Eve, father and philandering professor Michael, guilt-ridden 17-year-old son Magnus and disinterested 12-year-old daughter Astrid -- needs and provides it. Only after a breach leads Eve to oust her does the family realize Amber’s true nature.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Abandoned as an infant in Victorian England, 17-year-old Sue Trinder was taken in by Mrs. Sucksby, whose home doubles as a hub for pickpockets (or fingersmiths) and other thieves, including a con man called Gentleman. His latest plot -- to marry and dispose of heiress Maud Lilly -- involves Sue, who is to serve as Maud’s maid. Sue agrees to participate, but her role grows complicated when she develops feelings for Maud.
The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
The son and namesake of a forger and Shakespeare enthusiast who raised him and twin sister Dana while attempting to evade the law’s attention, Arthur becomes a novelist. His struggle with his family’s influence intensifies when his father, now aging, reaches out claiming that he has a hitherto unknown work of the Bard that he wants Arthur to get published. Is the play real, though, or one last con?