CHANCEY ON TOP by John Wareham


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Aussie corporate headhunter quips a sonnet of his own demise, in a first novel by the author of, among others, Secrets of a Corporate Headhunter<\I> (1980).

Aptly named Chancey Haste, novice poet and founder of Haste & Co., employs reckless, power-driven “rainmakers” at his office in Sydney, and they in turn position underqualified clients in big business atmospheres. Chancey’s marriage to Jill, and the love of their two children, take the backburner to Elen Haverford, the classically intelligent daughter of a wealthy Brit magazine owner who entertains herself with Wildean witticisms and Hastean sexual appetites. Together, the two tour Godzone (God’s Own Country: New Zealand), quibbling over Shakespeare and enjoying their privileged lives. Meanwhile, though, Chancey’s accounts are dwindling and his Renfield-like sidekick Crawley is getting nervous. Haste & Co. has plans to open offices in New York and London, but it seems that Fuller Fyfe and “Brittle Dick,” Chancey’s top two agents, want only to spend time bickering over personal ethics (which they both lack: while interviewing a quadriplegic applicant, Fuller feels a sexual history is in order). Though garnished with hilarious, farcical episodes, the first section sobers itself nicely with Chancey’s guilt: perverse dreams of sex and violence and an unpaid printer threaten to reveal his adulterous ways. The second section, however, opts for a realistic and less inspired denouement. Chancey and Jill are in New York, Fuller has landed the London office, and Brittle holds down the fort Down Under. Five years after their breakup, Elan returns to Chancey, this time pregnant and accompanied by an elderly, closet-bisexual husband. The affair reignites but doesn’t last. Chancey discovers that Elan aborted the baby he never knew about. Jill kicks him out of their house. His poems get unimaginably worse. Fuller and Brittle conspire to form their own agency and pilfer much of Haste & Co.’s clientele. There’ll be a romanticized suicide, another street prophet insinuating Chancey is the devil himself, plus a brutal ass-kicking, before Chancey is no longer on top.

Philosophically savvy, entertaining, and whimsical in large part, with only a semi-rewarding latter half.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-56649-264-5
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2003