An exiled Wall Street trader offers an unapologetic accounting
of the excesses of the early 1980s.
Goolrick (Heading Out to Wonderful, 2012, etc.) is a superb writer, as evidenced by his sublime debut novel, A Reliable Wife (2009), and his brutal memoir, The End of the World as We Know It (2007). He's referred to his latest as both novel and autobiography; it carries both the artistic qualities of the former and the emotional truth of the latter, even if it is set during a well-worn moment in the American zeitgeist. The unnamed narrator is a former Wall Street hotshot who looks back on his glory days as a “Big Swinging Dick,” swimming among the other sharks. The novel presents its chapters as vignettes that depict his unmaking—think of it as the Icarus myth of a cocky young kid as filtered through the voice of a tired older man. “I say this without pride or apology,” he says. “It is a statement of irrefutable fact. I could charm a hatchling out of its egg. I could sell ice cream to Eskimos. Dead Eskimos.” It shares some aspects of similar stories, ranging from the tragicomic beats of Jay McInerney or Bret Easton Ellis to the repulsive behaviors in films like Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1989) and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)—mountains of cocaine, thousand-dollar prostitutes, and bro-enabled debauchery are all on full display. Fortunately, Goolrick’s measured pace and insightful revelations save it from becoming a mockery. For starters, Goolrick worked in advertising, not finance, and so there’s no complex financial wizardry to detract from the core story. More importantly, it doesn’t carry the obscene celebratory tone of some of its analogues. Goolrick is focused on the idea of loss and redemption and shows the small ways by which we become human again. As our man burns through his money and reputation, loses his place on Mount Olympus, and eventually becomes a bookseller, the novel does its best to show the price of flying too high.
A cautionary tale about what happens when the party’s over.