The Index of Self-Destructive Acts (Hardcover)
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2020 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
“A significant novel, beautifully crafted and deeply felt. Beha creates a high bonfire of our era's vanities. . . . This is a novel to savor.” —Colum McCann
Through baseball, finance, media, and religion, Beha traces the passing of the torch from the old establishment to the new meritocracy, exploring how each generation’s failure helped land us where we are today.
What makes a life, Sam Waxworth sometimes wondered—self or circumstance?
On the day Sam Waxworth arrives in New York to write for the Interviewer, a street-corner preacher declares that the world is coming to an end. A data journalist and recent media celebrity—he correctly forecast every outcome of the 2008 election—Sam knows a few things about predicting the future. But when projection meets reality, life gets complicated.
His first assignment for the Interviewer is a profile of disgraced political columnist Frank Doyle, known to Sam for the sentimental works of baseball lore that first sparked his love of the game. When Sam meets Frank at Citi Field for the Mets’ home opener, he finds himself unexpectedly ushered into Doyle’s crumbling family empire. Kit, the matriarch, lost her investment bank to the financial crisis; Eddie, their son, hasn’t been the same since his second combat tour in Iraq; Eddie’s best friend from childhood, the fantastically successful hedge funder Justin Price, is starting to see cracks in his spotless public image. And then there’s Frank’s daughter, Margo, with whom Sam becomes involved—just as his wife, Lucy, arrives from Wisconsin. While their lives seem inextricable, none of them know how close they are to losing everything, including each other.
Sweeping in scope yet meticulous in its construction, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts is a remarkable family portrait and a masterful evocation of New York City and its institutions. Over the course of a single baseball season, Christopher Beha traces the passing of the torch from the old establishment to the new meritocracy, exploring how each generation’s failure helped land us where we are today. Whether or not the world is ending, Beha’s characters are all headed to apocalypses of their own making.
About the Author
Christopher Beha is the editor of Harper’s Magazine. He is the author of two previous novels, What Happened to Sophie Wilder and Arts & Entertainments, and a memoir, The Whole Five Feet. His writing has appeared in the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, and the London Review of Books. He lives in New York City with his wife and family.
An impressive performance . . . Beha is excellent at establishing his characters as representatives of particular intellectual worldviews; he doesn’t have to pin them down because they keep trying to do it to one another.
Beha’s third novel is a masterful interplay of big, fraught themes of privilege, race, wealth, and ethics.
Absorbing and satisfying.
All I want at this instant is a thick-ass novel that interweaves a variety of fascinating characters and makes me forget my troubles. For example, a Tom Wolfe novel. Or, it turns out, a Christopher Beha novel. At 517 pages this one is heavy enough to maim somebody with, which is a marvelous quality when combined with a crafty plot and nimble sentences. The more the better.
A big, sympathetic book about the follies and failings of elite New Yorkers. . . . Beha creates a supple context in which to explore a series of intersecting efforts to find or regain footing and meaning in life.
Cleverly written with poetic overtones, the narrative provides engaging twists and turns.
Beha has written a mature and engrossing novel of ideas that succeeds in its wedding of our inner lives with our outer ones. In doing so, the story offers to our reflexively analytical age both a mirror in which to examine our boils and a balm to alleviate them.
Its breadth, ambition, and command are refreshing. An admirably big-picture, multivalent family saga.
Harper’s Magazine editor Beha brings to messy life a post-9/11 New York City in a character-rich novel that’s funny, poignant, prescient, and somehow sweetly deft in the willing suspension of disbelief as a syzygy of coincidences careens toward a perfect storm.
Beha’s earlier work has been rightfully compared to the work of Graham Greene, and in this new novel Beha does what only Greene and a handful of other novelists have been able to accomplish: make God, belief, and doubt the stuff of serious fiction—even down to the probing dialogue of his characters.
Filled with stunning acts of hubris and betrayal, Beha’s deliciously downbeat novel picks apart the zeitgeist, revealing a culture of schemers and charlatans. This cutting send-up of New York progressive elitism should do much to expand Beha’s audience.
A book's worth of thoughtful essays folded into a kick-ass novel.
— Nell Zink, author of Doxology
A significant novel, beautifully crafted and deeply felt. Beha creates a high bonfire of our era's vanities. His work reminds me of the great Robert Stone and Theodore Dreiser. This is a novel to savour.
— Colum McCann, author of Apeirogon
Christopher Beha's seductively complex The Index of Self-Destructive Acts operates like a minute repeater, tiny hammers hitting separate gongs, producing multiple distinct tones but, ultimately, telling one time. And the time that Beha is telling is one that we know, but we haven't heard it told quite like this. Balancing multiple plots and characters with seamlessness and intrigue, The Index is bound to become a must-read of our time.
— Lisa Taddeo, author of Three Women
Beha’s marvelous new novel is about, and more often than not exemplifies, pretty much everything good that New York City has lost in the past few bad years: wit, liberalism, journalism, and the dignity of self-destruction.
— Joshua Cohen, author of Attention: Dispatches from a Land of Distraction
Beha is a sneaky-great plot-maker and thinker; by the time he wraps up this compassionate 21st-century tale of ambitious people looking for somewhere to place their faith—religion, statistics, love, money, country—you can see the clouds starting to gather into the moral Category 5 we’re currently enduring.
— Jonathan Dee, author of The Locals
Ranging effortlessly from baseball statistics to insider trading, and from street-corner prophecy to Romantic Poetry, Beha finds the nuance and humanity in every subject he takes up. The Index of Self-Destructive Acts is that increasingly rare thing: a big, ambitious novel that boldly explores contemporary life in all of its complexities and contradictions.
— Andrew Martin, author of Early Work