Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Growth (Troy S. Gamble)

Peculiar case, this one. Despite some bizarrely off-the-point Amazon reviews that make it sound like an earnest novel about personal growth, it is actually an archly satiric novel about (mostly) economic growth. The style is like a Britishized distillation of the opening line of Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49:

One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary.

The book is also Pynchon-esque in that it takes place in a world that is not quite the real world; it's just a little too absurd and improbable. Thus, a key skein of the plot (at least for a while, until the author seems to forget about it) has to do with the possible purchase of a piece of real estate that would definitely never be for sale in our reality.

This is difficult fictional territory to work successfully, and it cannot be said that debut novelist Troy S. Gamble really succeeds. There are bright spots, such as funny bits of observation:

This man was the epitome of life as it should be, she thought...She wanted her life to be like that: walking a dog, flying her own jet to her own Caribbean island, helping people across the street, reading a good book while listening to the friendly chat of her partner on the phone discussing a loan to some small Eastern European country in exchange for a special tax arrangement approved in the local parliament. Apparently, it wasn't possible, not for long.

Or encapsulations of the novel's financial themes:

"The new rich usually have a small part of their worth in liquidity, some fraction of a percent. Everything else is loans, goodwill and market capitalization - and it is not real money, it's just funny numbers to juggle and brag about. Do you know how many people who buy or rent high-end property are unable to pay their utility bills?"
"Open your laptop, add some zeroes to a random digit, call it money."

But the drags on the (long) narrative are many. It proceeds by a series of set-pieces, some of which are passably amusing, others obviously derivative - a masked-orgy sequence is straight out of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and suffers by the comparison. The plot frequently descends into mere silliness (the aforementioned real estate sub-plot, for example). The protagonist, failed corporate manager and would-be poet Peter Copeland, is an annoying nitwit; in fact, many of the characters are annoying nitwits. Despite the book's length, a number of plot-lines are left dangling and unresolved, and the key one that is resolved achieves its denouement through the arrival of a new set of characters out of nowhere. This may be intended as a comment on life's essential randomness, but it come across as novelistically inept.

In short, an interesting try at a thematically timely literary performance, with glints of real talent, but I could not easily recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment