UP IN THE AIR
The message of Kirn's new novel is that the "dark Satanic mills" that power the capitalist system no longer run on the sweat of the laboring masses—they are now fueled by the hot air of the therapeutic-industrial complex, that weird construct made of a thousand management strategy companies and their attendant conferences. In this world, being fired has been euphemized into "career transition." Ryan Bingham is a career transition counselor for a firm based in Denver. His ultimate goal is accumulating one million frequent flier miles, but he has a few other projects he hasn't told headquarters about. He's written a business allegory, for one thing, which he hopes to place with a management science publisher. He also wants to market Sandor Pinter, a Peter Drucker–like management guru, through posters, coffee cups and the usual familiar detritus of pop culture. His most important and hush-hush project is to jump ship to MythTech, a mysterious Omaha company renowned for its esoteric management consulting. On the periphery of Ryan's consciousness is his sister Julie's upcoming wedding, but his disconnection from his family is evident. Kirn is trying to create the New Economy Babbitt, the perpetual haunter of first class and airport bars. Unfortunately, Ryan is not only an uninteresting character, bloated, shallow and incorrigibly explicative—tell (and tell and tell...), not show, seems to be his motto—but is uninterested in others. Crowding the page, he smothers Kirn's bursts of astringent humor and obscures any broader perspective on 21st-century corporate culture. (July)
Forecast:Much will be expected of this novel by the literary editor of GQ and the author of the New York Times Notable novel Thumbsucker. Media world curiosity and the appeal of the book's subject matter to corporate management masses may generate respectable sales, but no more—this is not one of Kirn's better efforts.