A slight tale of skewed values and yuppie angst in a stiff translation from the German.
It seems unlikely, but perhaps in his native Germany the ground that lawyer and first-time novelist Oswald explores is fresh territory. Here, it’s old hat, spoken for by an entire genre of books such as Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (1996) and Douglas Kennedy’s The Big Picture (1997). In a novel almost formulaic in construction, Oswald introduces thirtysomething Thomas Schwartz, a midlevel executive handling foreclosures at a large bank. His friendships are all utilitarian, he’s disdainful of those who haven’t managed to carve out a place as secure as his, and his intimate knowledge of others’ debts fosters a sense of superiority. Predictably, though, his life is all surface, and his wife Marianne, a rising advertising executive, shares little more with him than a taste in glossy possessions and a relentless, nearly heartless drive toward success. “Success is a daily issue, as the Americans say,” Marianne tells him when she slips up at work. Soon, Thomas’s position is threatened too, when his boss purposely assigns him a hopelessly convoluted case. When both are fired, Marianne leaves to stay with wealthy relatives, while Thomas falls in with Uwe and Anatol, shady, money-laundering drug-dealers whose front businesses were being investigated by Thomas’s bank. Engaged by them as a “consultant,” Thomas is plied with money—and with Sabine, girlfriend for hire. At first, helping to dodge the bank’s investigation is exhilarating, but when Uwe, heavily muscled and violent, places Thomas in the middle of a drug deal, he realizes he wants out. Setting up his new colleagues to be arrested, he picks up Sabine and escapes from the country with the money from the deal, leaving his spouse and life behind.
As an amorality tale of the modern middle-class materialist lifestyle, there’s nothing new here. As entertaining satire, Brett Easton Ellis did it with more style and imagination a decade ago.