THE REAL WORLD by Christopher Knowlton


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Caleb Sparrow's initial year out of college, working at a management-consulting firm--in a wispy, blandly pleasant, only faintly comic first-novel. Son of an athletic, dynamo businessman, young Caleb is a mild-mannered, ordinary sort who chooses a business-career ""by default."" Thanks largely to Sparrow Sr.'s connections, he gets a job as a research analyst at Hooker & Lyman, a big, top-grade Manhattan firm--despite his ""limited quantitative background.' The job, predictably, is all about pressure, numbers, conformity, what-the-client-wants-to-hear. Caleb works hard but never really fits in. (""Why couldn't he be comfortable with just being different?"") He also feels out-of-place with his sleazy roommate, who drags prim Caleb half-way into slightly raunchy situations. Only with ""oddball"" consultant Diane does Caleb feel comfortable--and she, after some unconsummated romance with the adoring research analyst, is revealed to be a ""speed freak."" So, when his major project results in a cop-out ""compromise,"" passive Caleb winds up predictably disillusioned, if comforted by his passion for bird-watching. Some of the consulting-firm detail here may interest would-be business people--though journalism has offered funnier, smarter views of this world. There's an occasional amusing moment as fuddy-duddy Caleb drifts through a series of uncommonly mild mishaps. But the business-material never rises to satire, the character-material never blossoms into comedy--and the upshot is a wan, inoffensive variation on the sensitive-young-man-in-the-real-world formula.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum