A YOUNG MAN’S GUIDE TO LATE CAPITALISM by Peter Mountford

Book Quote:

“The issue finally wasn’t that he wanted to be rich, per se, but that he wanted to be done with so much WANTING.”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte  (APR 12, 2011)

If for nothing else, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism will be remembered as a clear-eyed, unsentimental look at money and our complicated relationship with it. The protagonist in Peter Mountford’s debut novel is a young biracial man, Gabriel de Boya, who is on assignment for The Calloway Group, a New York hedge fund. He finds himself in La Paz in Bolivia—where the novel is set—on the eve of the election that would usher in Evo Morales as President.

Gabriel’s assignment is to predict first the outcome of the election, and subsequently its effect on the Bolivian gas industry. Gabriel’s boss in New York, the aggressive Priya Singh, would essentially like to speculate about whether Morales would nationalize the Bolivian gas industry right away, as he promised. To obtain such sensitive information, Gabriel works incognito in the city passing off as a freelance reporter on assignment.

It is as a reporter that Gabriel meets, and subsequently falls in love with, Lenka Villarobles—Morales’s press liaison. As their relationship progresses, Gabriel reveals his clandestine operations to Lenka, hoping that she will provide vital pieces of information he will need to keep the ever-demanding boss happy back home. When, at great risk to her job, Lenka does share crucial information with Gabriel, he must decide how to play it so as to maximize his own personal profit in the high stakes world of money markets. As he does so, he must also face up to the moral dilemmas attendant with such manipulations. Gabriel’s mother, an émigré to California from Chile and hardcore liberal, serves as a mirror to his moral conscience. About halfway through the novel, when she makes a sudden appearance in La Paz, Gabriel finds it increasingly hard to keep from lying to mom (thus far she thinks he works for a telephone company). Greed eventually wins and it remains to be seen whether Gabriel’s workings will have him emerge a winner.

Mountford does a wonderful job painting the city of La Paz—the reader gets a real pulse of what it is like to be there. Also well done is the history of the country, as outlined in brief asides, yet seamlessly incorporated into the overall narrative.

YMG is not without its negatives however. For one thing, the key events in the book seem to turn on rather big coincidences or at least chance occurrences. Gabriel’s first meeting with Lenka is one such example. Later on, Gabriel runs into the future finance minster outside a crowded church on Christmas Eve and the minister too shares vital information. It is hard to shake the slight implausibility with which these events occur.

Gabriel too is a frustratingly obtuse character. Mountford has tried to paint him as interestingly complex and at least when it comes to his view of money, he is. “Money, in general—the plain and unassailable acts of acquiring and spending it—had turned out to occupy a more important role in adulthood than he’d expected,” Mountford writes of Gabriel. “The issue finally wasn’t that he wanted to be rich, per se, but that he wanted to be done with so much wanting. It was a feedback loop, and the only way out was deeper in: he needed to have enough money to be done with the issue of money forever.”

But Gabriel ultimately turns out to be a mixed bag of contradictions. He seems too passive initially—just coasting along until Lenka is ready to drop some information and this passivity doesn’t match his later ambitious side.

The gradual buildup to his final high-stakes decisions is too mechanical, based more on game theory (one of the author’s favorite subjects is economics, he has said) rather than on any real human impulses. The same is true of his mother, who when she finds out the true shenanigans of her son, reacts in a rather extreme fashion. And as Mountford himself writes in the novel: “Real people’s motivations [are] too complex and flawed to be fathomed by any mathematics.” In other words, Gabriel comes across as too clinical to be real.

Where A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism does succeed in a big way is in capturing the role money plays in our lives. While most of us consider rampant greed a morally bankrupt concept, it is to Mountford’s immense credit that many a reader will relate to Gabriel’s views about money. So his subsequent actions fueled by greed, become extremely believable, even if they are inexcusable. As Edith Wharton once famously said: “The only way not to think about money is to have a great deal of it.” Gabriel—and many a reader—would definitely agree.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 7 readers
PUBLISHER: Mariner Books; 1 edition (April 12, 2011)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Peter Mountford
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More money stories:

The Financial Lives of Poets by Jesse Walter

Das Kapital: a novel of love and money markets by Viken Berberian

Bibliography:


April 12, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  Â· Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, Humorous, Reading Guide, Satire, South America

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