sucking it up

David Denby writes like an angel, his words creep out like gas and infiltrate their way through consciousness. There is nothing didactic or bossy about his way with language. Everything is proportioned like sculpture, no words misplaced or misshapen phrases. He writes film reviews for the New Yorker and his style derives clearly from the precise witty observant style of that publication. Unlike many New Yorker writers Denby never lets out the possibility that the writing is more important than the subject, he has a tight rein on the impression that his language conveys, but nevertheless there is always the sense that he is manufacturing a beautiful thing (like painting or sculpture or object d’art). Beautiful things have intrinsic value, they are, as a child might say; pretty.

I’m not sure what the intrinsic value of American Sucker is. It may be that any critique of market capitalism has intrinsic worth, especially one emanating from New York in the post 911 atmosphere, but this is not hardcore. Denby finds himself in the late nineties wanting to make a million dollars, enabling him to buy from his wife their once happy apartment in Manhattan. With love lost he cannot let go of the apartment and sets out to buy out his wife’s share of the apartment. He invests in tech stocks, especially hardware, and watches the NASDAQ like a bald eagle.

As we all know tech stocks, especially hardware, took a huge fall in the late nineties and Denby’s dream is crushed. No wife, no apartment. In simplistic terms American Sucker is an ode to lost hope. But the thing is that hope is never really lost. Denby might spend a few weeks lost in internet pornography or in an adulterous affair, or a year following the NASDAQ like others follow the Knicks but ultimately Denby has an apartment in Manhattan and a high status high pay job. He hopes not to go from rags to riches but from salaried comfort to wealth. Although the loss of love is depicted with heart and openness he never quite admits that he has not lost anything else. Even by the books conclusion he has not lost any money, he simply failed to turn his investments into a fortune.

There may be poetry in the stock market, and Denby comes as close as anyone I’ve read to finding it, but the soul in this book is a refined and arch organism. Control is never lost, never is Denby overwhelmed. Grief, anger and loss are tropes to be grappled with, Denby does not express the racing of his pulse; or the flash of hurt in his eyes; or the intuitive making of a fist. He strikes me as the most platonic of writers. He is very civilised (indeed apart from libido, he might not have a body at all) such that his failure as a stock capitalist is tidy and controlled. American Sucker is testimony to how civilised he is, and how civilised his writing is , and how civilised the making of money can be.


About rustichello

A rather too quiet fellow of little reknown.
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