Thursday, February 13, 2014

"The Dismal Science"

Peter Mountford’s debut novel, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, won the 2012 Washington State Book Award and was a finalist in the 2012 VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize. In its full-page review, The Seattle Times wrote: “Debut novels don't come much savvier, punchier, or more entertaining...the work of an extraordinary talent.”

Mountford applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Dismal Science, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Dismal Science is uncannily representative of the book itself. At that point in the story, Vincenzo D’Orsi, the protagonist, has called his friend Walter who’s a well-known reporter at the Washington Post, and he’s unloading the story—on the record, he insists—about this ostensibly private argument with a colleague at the World Bank. Walter is uneasy with this confession. It’s a good story, on one hand, but it’s also obviously very self-destructive of his friend to come to him with it in this way.

So much of the book is concerned with how we make decisions: the intersection of your sense of moral imperative and your itching self-interest. Throughout the book there’s a pervading sense that all best laid plans are outrageously futile. There’s no point it playing the game well because the outcome is arbitrary, anyway—and where do you measure outcome in life, anyway? Isn’t the outcome of life always the same (i.e. death)?

Still, Walter’s in this tricky place with Vincenzo, he’s trying to keep Vincenzo at bay, and he’s also trying to tease the story out. Finally, Walter just swings the door open at the top of 69:
At last, [Walter] said, “Fuck it. Okay. Go on.”

Much of the rest of the conversation was a blur [to Vincenzo], as are most of the truly important moments in life. Those great events always seemed to be formalized in interactions that, when recalled, appeared bright and blurry—like an iridescent watercolor left out in a rainstorm. The memory of his proposal to Cristina was like that, as was the conversation when she told him that she was pregnant. Leonora’s birth: the only remaining image was of the thick dark blood seeping slowly from the freshly cut umbilical cord—and later, in Italy, when Leonora lost her leg, he remembered only huddling with Cristina, her nails digging deep into his wrist, while the electric saw screamed in the next room. Of the conversation with the doctor who told him that Cristina was dead, he remembered nothing whatsoever, just a hand on his shoulder. And, of this latest incident, telling Walter about the conversation with William Hamilton, Vincenzo would remember mainly that Walter offered him several opportunities to back out, but he continued.

At one point, Walter even said. “God! Have you talked to Wolfowitz, because I bet he’ll take your side.”

“I actually did talk to him. And you’re right. He took my side.”

“So, what’s the point?” Walter shot back with unusually stark emotion in his voice. Like so many of the old guard in the DC press, Walter was a wan and debauched preppy—blond and fond of seersucker in the summer, tasseled loafers whenever; he was Buckley-esque. Still, his mind was a ferocious instrument dulled only around the periphery by years of monomania and heroic boozing.
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Mountford's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

My Book, The Movie: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

--Marshal Zeringue