Waitzkin (The Last Marlin, 2000, etc.) dissects the life of a man who sells himself and other things, sprinkling the narrative with yachts, trophy homes and a cameo by Lenny Bruce.
There’s a nameless narrator, a freelance writer. There’s Jim, the salesman, “tempting and delicious and a little dangerous.” Whether it’s network-marketing, Quonset huts for Canadian farmers or sluicing gold out of the Amazon basin, Jim hones in "on disappointment and avarice” to offer happiness and optimism. It’s 1983. On a Bimini fishing retreat, the two men meet in a seaside bar. Jim is “fast and powerful...and handsome with a worn-out toughness.” The men become friends. As Jim’s story unfolds, mirrored by a narrator about whom little is revealed, readers are immersed in a tale much like a bastard mating of Heart of Darkness and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Forced to support his mother after his father abandons the family, Jim grows up to make one fortune after another, first in pyramid schemes, then selling rugged and practical Quonset huts, and finally robbing gold from the primitive Amazon. He loses fortunes too, walking away from Marvin Gesler, the brains behind the Quonset operation, when he discovered Marvin was skimming a bit off the top. The Amazon saga powers Waitzkin’s novel, where in the garimpo, the gold camp he and his workers have hewed from the jungle, Jim learns both what greed can cost and what it can teach. There he displays a mixture of hubris and loyalty when his foreman Ribamar “a sentinel among fools,” defends the camp against marauders. It’s scene and action, convoluted and complex, worthy of psychoanalysis. There are women—Jim's beautiful wife, Ava, who becomes Lenny’s obsession; Phyllis, compliant second wife; Angela, Brazilian tribal beauty; and most of all, Mara, a decades younger, married Israeli woman, calculating, audacious, preposterous, presumptuous, sensual. Waitzkin offers a singular and haunting morality tale, sophisticated, literary and intelligent.
Thoroughly entertaining. Deeply imaginative. Highly recommended.