A bold and insightful novel detailing a young Wall Street analyst's fall from grace
Chris Kelch is at the top of his game, one of Freshler Feld's rising stars. At only twenty-eight, he's one of the highest-rated equity research analysts in his sector; last year, he pulled down nearly half a million dollars. His personal life is also on a roll: his girlfriend, the comely Kersten Henry, couldn't be more supportive. Kelch's small-town, single-parent, Midwestern roots seem far behind.
But when a thinly veiled profile of Kelch runs in a prominent magazine, things start to go downhill. Not only does the piece reveal company secrets and cast Freshler Feld in a bad light, it also makes him feel like a dupe: the author tricked him into giving an interview. And it reveals far more about Kelch's conflicted feelings about his past and his job than he has admitted even to himself.
Then a stock Kelch handpicked falters, and things go from bad to worse as he is forced to examine just about every assumption, decision, and mistake he's ever made.
With suspense and style, Gary Sernovitz's The Contrarians not only creates one of the most memorable "money men" in recent American fiction, it also examines, as no novel has done before, the rise-and the seeds of the fall-of late-nineties Wall Street.
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 Plainthat 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."