“Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.” So says Holden Caulfield, and so say the last five years of American history.
The dominoes that started falling in 2007 led to lost homes and empty retirement funds for millions of Americans, and lost performance benefits for the people who set the dominoes up. Americans sputtered with outrage in every city and small town, throwing out the old bosses in 2008, then opening the doors to a louder and stunningly less competent group of new bosses in 2010. Economists, investors, world leaders, law makers and voters around the world have struggled to understand exactly what happened, and determine what needs to happen next, and pretty much everyone is still blue as hell about it all.
Hollywood has responded with a sequel to “Wall Street,” but what about our publishing houses? These are times ripe for being written down. Michael Lewis deftly captured the tumble and fall period in The Big Short (our thoughts here). More recently over at Bookforum, Christian Lorentzen speculated on “a novel about Occupy Wall Street,” explaining that sweeping fiction about money will be difficult to come by because, “The impulse to become a writer suggests a fundamental fiscal incompetence.” So there’s that. Here at Fiction Advocate, Brian Hurley batted around his own thoughts on the presence of an Occupy Wall Street novel, and offered a reading list of books that — if not classic OWS novels — may help illuminate what is going on.
But it may be that the best Wall Street novel we have was written almost 40 years ago. William Gaddis’ J R is the story of an eleven-year-old boy who makes a killing on the stock market, or as the Dalkey Archive Press says of its beautiful re-issue of the novel, “J R is a biting satire about the many ways in which capitalism twists the American spirit into something more dangerous, yet pervasive and unassailable.” Before you get to the opening sentence — “–Money…? in a voice that rustled.” — Rick Moody introduces the novel saying, “J R Vansant could not seem more plausible and emotionally satisfying and true these days , in this Madoff-esque present.” The book itself is long, more than 700 pages, and comes with Gaddis’ reputation for difficulty, but the fact that it remains so celebrated after so many years is literature’s best approximation of Too Big to Fail, which is why I aim to read J R this summer.
Fortunately, Lee Konstantinou at the Los Angeles Review of Books has created #OccupyGaddis, a reading challenge/support group for taking on J R. I will be joining in, and blogging about it here, and I hope you will take part as well. Visit the LARB page for more information about pacing and other logistical details, then come back and comment on our posts or send us links to your own. You’ll probably want to get started soon; we’re supposed to be 150 pages into this thing by the 29th.
See you out there.
– Michael Moats