A seismic disturbance rocks New Yorker film critic Denby’s life, and he turns for security, Lord help him, to the stock market of early 2000.
But money proves godless, and the experience moves the earth under his feet as dreadfully as the dissolution of his marriage. Even with the portents, the breakup of Denby’s marriage to novelist Cathleen Schine shook him like a rag doll. As things fell apart, he decided “to make money, serious money . . . so I could hold on to something very important to me,” most especially, the family’s longtime apartment on the Upper West Side, a place that anchored his memories and self. Thanks to the “giddy boom-times,” the market value of the place had reached $1.4 million. Now, Denby figured $1 million was what he needed to buy out his wife’s half interest. With the dumb, incredulous headshake of retrospect, he artfully explains his excursion into the tech stocks of millennium’s turn. But Denby is no dummy, his twitchy owlishness trying to make sense of the market, which was open to so many influences, from drab to berserk, at a time when value had no relation to earnings. Misgivings rode him like barbarians; he sought reassurance in the words and company of Sam Waskal and Henry Blodget and George Gilder, crooning visionary ecstasies that snookered him into ImClone and Corvis as they called up the philosophical and ethical implications of greed as motivation and perversion. A free-falling market forced him to consider “that our great system of democratic capitalism was just fine as long as things were going well for you,” and that “in a society like ours, which has so few communal instincts, the normal tragedies of life—losing a partner, losing a job—hurt much more than they should.” Stock market aside, Denby recounts his ungainly forays into romance, his disgruntlement with cinema, and the solace of time slowed to a human scale with his sons.
For those who felt Denby lost some of the bounce in his step when he moved from New York to the New Yorker, here he is again in full, anxious, exegetic stride.