'Mergers and Acquisitions': The Great Debate

As those who (for some reason) care may recall, no one over here can agree about anything regarding Dana Vachon's debut novel, Mergers & Acquisitions. Crap? Genius? Sign 'o the times? Horseman of apocalypse? Honestly, it's been tearing our office apart. Because the book party is tonight—more on that tomorrow!—we made Alex and Emily get together to work it all out. This sort of thing will be mainly of interest to those who first have an interest in books (cutting out most of you!) and, second, those who have read the book or are interested in so doing. (There go most the rest!) There are a few minor SPOILERS, so keep that in mind if, but other than that it's like listening in on a book club. And we all know how fascinating that is!

Rhymes With Memily: Let's start with one of my biggest complaints about the book: It fell apart at the end. Agree/disagree?
BALK BTW: Well, overall I really enjoyed the book. I thought the entire Mexico segment was unfortunate and partially juvenile, and I thought the girlfriend character was a piece of cardboard that should have had the words "symbolizes virtue and purity" written on it. And I think that's the ultimate flaw in the ending. I love the way he builds up to that anecdote and the writing in it is pitch perfect, but if you don't care about the girlfriend, the whole thing is somewhat empty.
Rhymes With Memily: Uh oh, I pretty much agree with you. [Ed. Note: Oh good, then this is over!]
Rhymes With Memily: I mean, except the "writing pitch perfect" part, I do think his voice is just good, that he's a natural, but the problem with being a natural is that it's really easy to get lazy, sloppy.
Rhymes With Memily: But yeah, the girlfriend was my biggest problem with the whole book.
Rhymes With Memily: Let me ask you a question? Do you think he's being sincere or parodic when he describes their first, uh, sexual encounter
Rhymes With Memily: ("bout of lovemaking?")
Rhymes With Memily: and he describes her breasts as "perfect 34Bs"
Rhymes With Memily: Do you think he thinks that's a legitimate way to speak, or is he purposely making the character a dumb frat boy?
BALK BTW: Oh, I read that in exactly the opposite way. I think that's Dana trying to convey the innocence of the character (who I want to keep referring to as Nick Carraway), suggesting that amidst these over-the-top monsters he's a guy who hasn't yet fallen into that trap but might.
BALK BTW: I think the "bout of love making" and 34bs are supposed to be the counterpoint to the Thorne character's "he tagged my sister," and other vulgarities.
Rhymes With Memily: But 34bs are... not the opposite of that kind of Maximspeak.
Rhymes With Memily: They're... the same thing.
BALK BTW: I read it as not being "look at these knockers!" But I don't read Maxim, you may be right.
Rhymes With Memily: I mean, ultimately the narrator — we can call him Nick, it's better than "Dana," I guess — IS a lot like roger thorne
BALK BTW: Well, I think part of the book — and part of Gatsby, if you think about it — is that we all have those elements in us, even though we think better of ourselves. We're just unaware of it when surrounded by such cartoony examples of it, until, little by little, we develop into it or have the big epiphany that makes us go the other way.
Rhymes With Memily: False epiphany.
Rhymes With Memily: Did you read Indecision? It has a similar "and then i escaped this false world after discovering how false it was" easy ending
BALK BTW: I did not read Indecision.
BALK BTW: But I also don't know that the Nick character DOES escape that world.
Rhymes With Memily: right, because it's AMBIGUOUS
Rhymes With Memily: aka LAZY
BALK BTW: I mean, if there were a next chapter he'd be broken up with the girlfriend, or she would have killed herself, and he'd be thinking about his feelings on some beach in Thailand with a bunch of hookers and some other guys from the office.
Rhymes With Memily: Back to the girlfriend
Rhymes With Memily: So much BLOOD all the time
BALK BTW: Because she is pure.
Rhymes With Memily: like, all this lady can do is bleed
Rhymes With Memily: and call things "horribly beautiful" or something
BALK BTW: She suffers for the sins of the world.
Rhymes With Memily: Ha, her stigmata
Rhymes With Memily: Why do we care about his pampered rich girl's suffering?
Rhymes With Memily: Also, WHY does she suffer so?
Rhymes With Memily: i kept expecting to find out the dark secret
Rhymes With Memily: but ... uh, so not dark
BALK BTW: [We're not going to reveal the dark secret. Suffice it to say that RWM finds it extremely disappointing and BALK BTW sees it as symbolic. Which is actually the crux of the argument, if you want to stop reading now. - Ed.]
Rhymes With Memily: There is one BIG thing I want to say about the book
Rhymes With Memily: You know Dana. Do you think he knows that another New York City exists underneath the one he depicts? Or is he just as clueless about that as his characters are?
Rhymes With Memily: Is it a book by rich people for rich people?
BALK BTW: Oh, he totally knows another New York exists. I could actually see an argument that it's a book by rich people for poor people. Like, sure, you imagine it's like this, but it's actually WORSE.
BALK BTW: I think the book has a lot of the same contradictions Dana does, about wealth and society, etc. It all comes down to Catholicism, actually. He's a Westchester Graham Greene.
Rhymes With Memily: Hmmm, maybe that's what all the blood is about!
BALK BTW: Oh, sure.
Rhymes With Memily: I disagree that it's a cautionary "see, mo money mo problems" kind of tale.
Rhymes With Memily: Maybe i'm projecting?
Rhymes With Memily: But the feeling i got from it is, "You can never be a part of this world, which, yes, has some negative aspects, but also involves a lot of fun and creature comforts."
BALK BTW: Wow, I read it from the total opposite perspective. "Look how horrid this world is, but look how ultimately seductive it is. Only the pure can resist."
BALK BTW: Again, Catholicism.
Rhymes With Memily: Well, it's a very superficial kind of purity.
BALK BTW: It's a superficial age.
Rhymes With Memily: It's a superficial book.
BALK BTW: I don't know about that. It's a book about a superficial subject, to be sure. I'm not saying it's Gatsby, but I'm not saying it's crap either. It's definitely not airport fiction.
Rhymes With Memily: I think it's something far worse, actually.
Rhymes With Memily: At least airport fiction doesn't pretend to be anything it's not.
Rhymes With Memily: It's like the fast food equivalent of a real novel about these kinds of characters.
Rhymes With Memily: It's prettily packaged, and the author has a great backstory that's a natural publicity hook, and clearly a lot of the publisher's resources went into the marketing campaign. But don't let that deceive you into thinking that this is actually an important book.
Rhymes With Memily: It's an amusing book, and a good effort for a debut! A really good effort.
BALK BTW: I don't know that anyone's claiming it's going to be taught in English Lit classes a hundred years from now. But neither is Bonfire of the Vanities or other New York decadence books that come out every ten years or so. I think you're at issue with the hype, the advance, the packaging, etc. Your argument seems more with the industry than it is with the book itself, which is, yes, flawed, but not so flawed that it doesn't deserve to be published or read.
Rhymes With Memily: I'm not at all saying that it doesn't deserve to be published or read, and I didn't think you were saying that it will be taught in English Lit classes. I agree with you that it will maybe be taught by American Studies profs the same way Bonfire or other "New York decadence" books might be because of the way it captures a specific cultural moment. You're right, I do have a problem with Next Big Thingness in general. But that aside, there are expectations one has of any published novel. Six more months, even, might have helped Dana not make the ending so slapdash and hollow. Six more years might have helped Dana not make the girlfriend so cardboardy. I wish he'd opted to take one or the other or both rather than following the "David Kuhn likes my blog, okay, I guess I'm ready to be a novelist now!" path.
BALK BTW: Well, I don't think we live in that world anymore. I think he's a talented writer who will only get better as he writes more, but the way things work now, you take the money and you learn to write in public. I almost think six more years would have produced a worse book, because it's so about the immediacy of this moment. And I think workshopping his voice would destroy what's special about it. It's probably unfortunate that everyone is rushed to get their debuts out, but I don't know what the alternative is. I think by the third book he's gonna be REALLY REALLY good. But I don't know how you don't take the money and write. It's almost meta in that the same way he's being hyped and published says a lot about the splashiness and gaudiness that are the center of the novel.
BALK BTW: But a lot of my anger about things comes from - honestly - an idealism that things should be better. I think, in this case, that's where you're coming from. [Ed. Note: Not to be sexist, but when did Balk turn into a woman?]
Rhymes With Memily: I guess we're getting to the same place but just via different routes.
Rhymes With Memily: You make a really good point about taking the money and learning to write in public. [Ed Note: Jesus Lord, you guys.]
Rhymes With Memily: And you're also right about the irony of how he's being hyped, and the novel being sort of about that. It'll make writing about the party fun!
Rhymes With Memily: Or maybe the reverse! Ok well. you haven't managed to convince me that I liked the book, but you did manage to convince me that your friend wasn't EVIL to foist it on the world in its parbaked state.
BALK BTW: Baby steps, Mem. Baby steps.