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EXTRAVAGANCE by Gary Krist

EXTRAVAGANCE

By Gary Krist

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 2002
ISBN: 0-7679-1330-2
Publisher: Broadway

Krist’s third novel (after Chaos Theory, 2000, etc.) reminds us that there have been other New Economies as he blends his ambitious hero’s adventures in 1690s London with similar events in New York from September 1999 to March 2000.

Twenty-year-old William Merrick, “fourth son in a family whose brickworks would only comfortably support three,” goes to work for his uncle, prominent wine merchant Gilbert Hawking, but is far more interested in “the joyous intricacies of what was then called Dutch finance—that new, uncharted world of notes and shares an annuities.” Will is a classic young man on the make in 17th-century London until Chapter Three, when the hackney coach hailed in ‘Change Alley turns into a 20th-century taxi at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway. From then on, his first-person narrative alternates between the two periods but tells the same story in both. Uncle Gilbert entrusts Will with the nebulous task of helping him connect with companies creating new technologies. Among these is “an electronic switching thingie” developed by Benjamin Fletcher (in the 17th century, he’s come up with a new kind of winch), whose alluring sister Eliza wants “to open a chain of socially-responsible restaurants” (or “a series of charitable chophouses” circa 1690). Will is almost as attracted to Eliza as he is to the seemingly limitless potential for making money dangled in front of him by Ted Witherspoon, a promoter of IPOs (called “projects” in 17th-century London). The dual time frame is a clever gimmick, but no more than a gimmick as Will makes the familiar journey from hungry apprenticeship to unmerited affluence to deserved comeuppance. He makes money, but he loses the girl. This won’t bother readers much, however, since Eliza, is as one-dimensional as the rest of the schematic cast.

Mildly entertaining, but the plot was fresher 15 years ago in the movie Wall Street, and there’s not a character as galvanizing as Gordon Gekko anywhere in sight.