THE CONTRARIANS

Gary Sernovitz, Author . Holt $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6778-1

Plutocratic Wall Street insiders are predictably bashed for their cupidity and self-righteousness in Sernovitz's disappointing sophomore effort. After making his auspicious debut last year with the incisive, idiosyncratic and deeply personalized Great American Plain, Sernovitz tackles the evils of corporate America. His writing is fluid and self-assured, but the flood of reportorial detail only points up the over-familiarity of the subject matter. Like Sernovitz himself, market analyst Chris Kelch is a Midwesterner starting a new life in New York. Kelch is an odd mix of understatement and braggadocio. A financial wunderkind at Freshler Feld, an elite Wall Street investment bank, he alternates between unreflective taciturnity (in his personal life) and voluble self-confidence (at the office). Things begin to go sour for the hyper-successful Kelch after he makes the mistake of sitting for an interview with pompous Paul Galicia, an iconoclastic magazine freelancer. Kelch believes that Galicia wants to use him for background research for a work of fiction, but later finds out that the unscrupulous writer has turned him into the prime subject for a scathing attack on Wall Street incompetence and excess. After the shallow, anti-intellectual Kelch reads Galicia's article his ice-blooded confidence starts to falter. A prize stock at the center of his "focus buy" portfolio takes a nose-dive, and Kelch begins to wonder if he really is the painfully average, "hollow man" depicted in Galicia's story. It's surprising that after a work as oblique and offbeat as Great American Plain that Sernovitz would turn to such straightforward storytelling. Much of the novel's satire seems contrived and diagrammatic. Still, the author has a good ear for Wall Street jargon and corporate inanity like the Freshler CEO's self-justifying maxim, "complicated clients don't mean compromised clients." (Sept. 13)

Reviewed on: 08/12/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-312-42183-0
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-4668-7168-7
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