Fiction – hardcover; Riverhead Books; 304 pages; 2007. Review copy courtesy of publisher.
When Jay McInerney, he of Bright Lights Big City fame, described this book, about young Manahattanites living it up in their first year on Wall Street, as a “witting and entertaining immorality tale” I jumped at the chance to acquire an advanced readers’ copy. It sounded like a right old romp that would do for investment banking what The Devil Wears Prada had done for magazine publishing. Alas, it did not live up to expectations.
Mergers and Acquisitions (published on April 5) starts out well. Tommy Quinn, a recent Georgetown graduate who dreams of becoming a medical doctor, lands a plum job with investment banking firm J.S. Spenser instead and, unsurprisingly, finds himself out of his depth: numbers were never his strong point.
He bumbles his way through the first few weeks, making friends with sex-mad ultra-confident Roger Thorne, and lives it up every evening with an eclectic band of young twenty-somethings, including his moneyed but psychologically damaged girlfriend Frances Sloan.
When he’s assigned his first major assignment — an oil deal — the book really hits its stride. Under the tutelage of a senior colleague, Makkesh Makker, Quinn’s luck, despite his inability to know the difference between a US dollar and a Canadian one, looks set to turn in his favour.
But the momentum of this storyline loses its drive, and what could have been a fascinating insight into the world of high finance — the deals, the stresses, the money and the unrealistically high expectations to deliver results — turns into a mish-mash of seemingly unrelated storylines about another world on the periphery — high art, fine dining, glamorous parties, illicit sex, designer brands and shallow people, all tempered by a kind of nasty narcissism.
Meanwhile the narrator, mild-mannered Quinn, never seems outraged by any of the behaviour shown by his colleagues nor acquaintances: he blindly stumbles along, sucked into the vacuous void that swirls around them. In fact, he is so weak and ineffectual that he does nothing to help his girlfriend who is having some obvious mental breakdown and lets her sort out her problems by herself. Charming.
The book’s saving grace is the exquisite descriptive passages — Vachon crafts gorgeous sentences and knows how to describe a scene so that you feel transported into another time and place, an impressive talent for a young first-time novelist. The humour, some of it laugh-out-loud funny, is also a strong point.
But ultimately Mergers and Acquisitions falls down because it has no cohesive plot or narrative drive to keep the reader turning the pages. Not even its slide into over-the-top farce on the yacht of a Mexican billionaire towards the end could save it. Pity really. There’s a potentially brilliant story in here dying to get out — let’s just hope Vachon nails it with his next novel.