A Brazilian shoeshine boy is caught up in an insider trading scandal in this improbable first novel from a deputy editor at Vanity Fair.
Aguilar Benicio, known as Gil, has been shining shoes on Wall Street since he was 17, taught by his father in Brazil. He started out at a shoe-repair shop where he was befriended by one of his customers, Greg Waggoner, a journalist working for a celebrity-focused magazine. Gil and Greg take turns as narrators. Greg is bland; it is Gil’s voice that dominates the novel. It’s ghetto or hip-hop, overlaid with a foreigner’s flubs; the result is sassy and mildly endearing. Gil betters himself when he moves to the trading floor of a large company; he’s now 23. The traders are into conspicuous consumption, eager for bragging rights; they do coke and they cheat on their wives. Unoriginal observations, but they’re delivered with verve. How does Gil feel about them? Are they overpaid, supercilious jerks (“they think I come from the subway stations, like the rats”) or genial buddies (“they treat me like I was good as anybody”)? The damaging inconsistencies show there’s no character or perspective behind that voice. The makeshift plot starts with another Brazilian, a janitor, finding the obnoxious trader Jeff Steed on his cellphone in his supply closet; Steed has the janitor fired. Gil turns to Greg for help. The journalist, oblivious to Steed’s lack of celebrity appeal, senses a big story, insider trading perhaps. The key scene has Steed blackmailing Bigelow, the equally corrupt CEO, while Gil shines the boss’s shoes, unnoticed. Later, realizing Gil has heard everything, the two men shower him with gifts, while Greg works on his story. Oh yes, Gil has wild sex with Alice, another boss, which provokes his previously inert Colombian girlfriend to go berserk with a kitchen knife, but the story has long since slid out of control.
As for Wall Street, it’s same old same old.