This debut novel follows a young man who, hoping to achieve financial independence, finds himself drawn to the stock market.
By the early 1970s, Rogers Stout is only 16 years old, but his father, Dr. Charles Stout, wants his son to live up to his potential. The Ohio teen is bright but putting minimal effort into high school studies. This changes the summer before his senior year with an internship at Prescott & Prescott, a stock brokerage and investment banking firm. Rogers becomes fascinated by the stock market and sets his sights on a finance major at Penn-Wharton in Philadelphia. He closely follows the market all through college, gradually developing abilities, such as how to “deconstruct a company’s financials” and “analyze its prospects.” As an exceptional poker player, courtesy of regular sessions with his dad, Rogers equates his investment philosophy with the card game. He plays while winning and stops to reassess his strategy after he’s lost. Rogers’ hard work pays off, as he lands a gig at a research and money management firm in New York. But his subsequent plan to invest in a small company is an unquestionable risk, and life, like the financial markets, can change instantly and unexpectedly. Despite the desperation implied by the title, the levelheaded protagonist is rarely distraught. (The title is derived from a line that a losing poker player—not Rogers—utters.) Still, Fine’s coming-of-age tale is engrossing. The historical backdrop, for one, is an enhancement: Rogers witnesses the 1973-74 stock market crash and worries about his girlfriend, Charlotte Marks, who, in 1977, is in a war zone in Cambodia for Doctors Without Borders. There’s also turmoil in the protagonist’s personal life, as banker Elsbeth Aylesworth fills the void created by his geographical separation from Charlotte. Prose is detail-laden, including poker and baseball games as well as investments, while financial terminology is adequately explained. But there’s still room for humor: Rogers’ description of his job is “to read and think and then occasionally make a bold decision.”
A leisurely paced but ultimately absorbing story of an aspiring Wall Street trader.