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SILVERADO by Steven Wilmsen

SILVERADO

Neil Bush and the Savings & Loan Scandal

By Steven Wilmsen

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1991
ISBN: 0-915765-89-6

 Like Man Without Memory, Burgin's recent Illinois Short Fiction Series collection (1989), these 11 stories, often absurdist and minimalist, involve a male who's disoriented or obsessed, though here the author includes several women as well. The best are lively, but many read like leftovers. ``Psycho in Buckingham Palace'' is the story of a friendship from childhood through college. The narrator gets involved with Lester, or ``Psycho,'' and, much later, with his sister, whom Psycho lives with. The narrator goes to law school, while Lester, downward-bound, drives a cab, goes off the edge, and steals some money. ``Song of the Earth'' is a study of a manipulative relationship between Ray, a journalist, and influential conductor Perry. The two play a cat-and-mouse game, Ray after Perry's influence, Perry after Ray's bod, and finally Ray cynically allows himself to be seduced in an apt conclusion. In ``The Horror Age,'' a father arranges jobs and apartments for his daughter, the narrator, ``the kind of person who always sees signs in everything.'' The daughter at last confronts her father about childhood sexual abuse (in the wake of her mother's desertion) in an ending that is suitably tense but a little flimsy. Of the rest, ``The Spirit of New York'' is about a man who jumps out to ``scare people, usually women,'' but its sense of menace is a little too easily come by; in ``From the Diary of Gene Mays,'' a narrator who is ``vertically cohabiting'' with his lover (she lives in a different apartment in the same building) comes across a painting that ``began to have therapeutic value,'' visits the artist, and decides that ``The Earth is God's painting....'' Again, lively but a bit easy. Occasionally engaging tales of malaise and innocent perversion, though the vision that guides them is neither fresh nor consistently original. Some appeared in the Missouri Review, the Kansas Quarterly, TriQuarterly, and the Denver Quarterly. A sideshow to the crisis now convulsing US thrift institutions is hyped out of all proportion by an enterprising journalist on the basis of the culpable, albeit peripheral, involvement of an incompetent whose name has celebrity value--Neil Bush, son of George. Denver Post reporter Wilmsen broke the story of young Bush's conflicts of interest and grossly negligent judgments as a putatively independent director of Silverado, a failed savings-and- loan association based in the Mile High City. Recruited and cosseted by the venal sharpshooters who ran the federally insured thrift into receivership via no-hope credit extensions to cronies, extravagant compensations, and other forms of self-serving chicanery, the credulous Neil (a would-be oil/gas entrepreneur whose fledgling firm was notable mainly for its unbroken string of dry holes) apparently didn't have a clue as to the fiduciary duties of a nonemployee board member. As one result, he rubber-stamped clearly dubious deals and accepted financial assistance for projects no self-respecting loan shark would have underwritten. Wilmsen portrays Bush fils as none too bright, an assessment that rings true in the context of his demonstrably oblivious actions. But Bush here appears doubly dumb in his misguided resolve to clear his name once the scandal hit the headlines. All this unfortunate decision earned him was more unfavorable publicity and a hot-seat appearance before a Congressional subcommittee. In focusing on the nonfeasance of a thirtysomething dupe who was played for a fool by grown-ups, however, the author inflates Neil's role: as a practical matter, no amount of perfervid prose can make this spear-carrier into a principal. A gracelessly written, overblown story of a born fall guy who has become the symbol of an industry's corrupt avarice. (Twenty photographs--not seen.)