Top Producer, by Norb Vonnegut (16 November — 17 November)

Mary: Don’t read this. I don’t care what Google Reader tells you to do!

So. I, um, I really didn’t like this book. To reference my least favorite book ever one more time, because it’s just really useful for comparisons: Castle I kept reading because even though the writing hurt my brain, the plot line seemed to be going somewhere. Of course, then the plot line went somewhere worse than I could ever have imagined and then I was rather upset that I’d bothered to read on.

Top Producer, on the other hand… the writing hurt my brain (examples to follow), and the “plot line” was tenuous at best, but I soldiered on because it was a book club book and I was not going to let it defeat me. Then the solution to the mystery was actually pretty okay, and I was not terribly upset about having read the book, and then the end bit was crap and now I’m just feeling incredibly ambivalent about the whole thing.

Right. Story. Grove O’Rourke is a “top producer” (shocking), which I promise you you will never forget because I’m pretty sure those words are placed together at least twice on every page. Ahem. Sorry. A top producer, apparently, works at a… brokerage firm? I’m not clear on that part… and helps people manage their money possibly by trading stocks but also possibly by putting it into funds, but also possibly by swearing at people a lot. Or something. Anyway. Grove’s friend Charlie Kelemen throws this big birthday bash for his wife at the New England Aquarium at the beginning of the novel, and pretty soon a bunch of men are wearing burqas and Kelemen is swimming with the sharks. And then eaten by them. Mmmm, finance guru is delicious in the evening.

Grove is understandably upset, as his wife and child were killed in a car accident 18 months earlier. I would call this a spoiler, but as soon as he started being vague about that thing that happened 18 months ago (which continues for many pages before resolving, and then for many pages after that) I knew that his wife had died. Right. So when Charlie’s wife Sam phones up saying that she’s somehow got just $600 to her name (as opposed to the $53,000 she claims that her husband could spend in a month), Grove naturally dives in to help, both because Sam is a friend and because he has apparently decided that he’s a detective. I don’t know.

And, of course, as these money things go, not everything is as it seems and suddenly — wait, no, wrong book — very slowly Grove finds out that maybe Charlie isn’t the person everyone thought he was. Goody.

I think that the biggest problem with this book, the biggest, is that the finance and lingo in it is really really really dumbed down, to the point where Vonnegut feels the need to explain that “sitch” means “situation” or that holding your hands six inches apart and palms in is a nonverbal indication of size or even (and often) that top producers make so much money because their jobs are stressful and difficult.

Oh, and Vonnegut throws in gems like this, which make me hope beyond hope that he wrote this as a satire: “Brevity was a time-honored tradition on Wall Street. A one-name greeting spoke volumes. It said in effect, I’m really fucking busy. So quit screwing around and get to the point. Time is money, and I’m not here for my health or your small talk. Now, what do you have?” -twitch-

Things I liked about this novel: the end was okay. Vonnegut doesn’t really do that red herring thing where everyone is a suspect and then they aren’t; he just sort of builds up to the reveal and then the reveal is more than you expect, and I appreciated that. But then he does that thing I hate where he does the “Now, slightly into the future, here’s what all of my characters are doing!” rundown, and throws in a completely unneccesary and not fully realized love story that serves no purpose but to help make this book about 200 pages longer than it really should have been. Brevity, my right foot.

Mary: I told you not to read this! No complaining at me, you still have to read the book.

Rating: 2/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009)

See also:
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Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

4 thoughts on “Top Producer, by Norb Vonnegut (16 November — 17 November)

  1. Mary says:

    I like that you know me well enough to yell at me at both the beginning and the end 😉

    Definitely read the blog (skimmed the middle part where there were spoilers)… and am not necessarily discouraged since you say the end didn't totally suck.

  2. Alison says:

    Oh no! I will have to work harder to deter you people in the future!

    Is the book on audio? It might actually be better that way… the narrative might sound more conversational than irritating. Plus, putting myself in a confined space and just reading the book is how I managed to finish it. 🙂

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