A savvy, fast-paced second novel about an economist’s midlife crisis.
Vincenzo D’Orsi is a senior economist with the World Bank in Washington, D.C. The 54-year-old Italian has responsibility for Latin America. In 2005, the radical Evo Morales is a shoo-in to win the presidency of Bolivia, and only Vincenzo has the authority to change bank policy toward that country. The U.S. representative at the bank tries to bully him into an aid cutoff. Not only does Vincenzo resist, he goes public, giving an interview to his old friend Walter, veteran Washington Post reporter. It is a pivotal moment; the move ends his long career at the bank, yet Vincenzo is unsure why he has acted so drastically; he still admires the bank, for all its defects. Mountford manages all this very well: The economics are delivered crisply, and Vincenzo’s impulsive exit rings true. The format for the midlife-crisis novel calls for professional and personal self-destruction, and on the personal level, Mountford is less sure-footed, as was also apparent in his 2011 debut (A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism). There can be no blowup with his wife, for Vincenzo is a widower. His beloved Cristina was killed in a traffic accident some two years earlier, so it’s his relationship with their grown daughter, Leonora, that must speed his self-destruction. He loves her dearly but loathes her boyfriend, which causes his not-entirely-convincing break with her. One welcome tweak to the format comes with Ben, a young black man, who Vincenzo believes is a CIA operative, who shows up out of the blue to threaten Vincenzo if he exacerbates U.S. relations with Latin America; the Italian has no green card and could be deported. But the die has been cast; at the invitation of Morales, Vincenzo travels to Bolivia (the setting for Mountford’s debut) with Walter. His required meltdown occurs when he delivers a boozy speech to a large audience in La Paz.
A bracingly intelligent work, though ultimately a prisoner of the genre’s conventions.