Easterbrook’s (Sonic Boom, 2009, etc.) latest social commentary as literary fiction filters leverage buyouts, derivatives marketing and multimillion-dollar CEO bonuses through the lens of one wave-riding family.
Easterbrook isn’t subtle. Helot, the family surname, is ancient Greek for serf or slave. Posed as the author's symbolic question is whether this serfdom is voluntary. Life, after all, is pleasantly luxurious as the story begins in 2006. Easterbrook’s narrative tone is clinically ironic as he slides a slice of Helot life under the microscope. Tom is important at Corsair Assets, a private equity firm. Margo works a $2,500 coffee maker and chauffeurs daughters Caroline and Megan to fencing lessons and birthday parties. It’s the Reaganomics dream until Ken, Tom’s CEO in this world of debt swaps and derivatives, comes to dinner at the Helot house. Ken casually confesses to having looted Corsair into bankruptcy. Tom’s career enters a downward spiral, first spinning into consulting jobs with spare hope of permanent hiring, then to not-very-hopeful Internet startups, to commission sales at a big-box store, to temporary work as go-between for inept and corrupt management and recalcitrant and corrupt unions. Margo segues from at-home mother in a trendy McMansion to flirting for tips as a Hooters restaurant server. Meantime, Easterbrook itemizes, dissects and audits this world we have wrought: banking and investing; corporate life; health care and education; the ugly dichotomy between executive retention bonuses and an unlivable minimum wage; automation and manufacturing; consumerism and class distinction and social status; and nearly every other factor driving our “fast, flexible, kanban, sigma-six economy,” where people are expendable. Substitute class warfare for racial tension and what might be read as a sardonic, perhaps morbid, personal salvation narrative becomes a post-meltdown Bonfire of the Vanities.
Indicting the AIG-Bear Stearns-Lehman Brothers’ looting of the American dream, Easterbrook offers a must-have, Sub-Zero-refrigerator appraisal of what the Smartest Guys in the Room did to the American dream.