A cautionary tale about the excesses of Wall Street in the heady, materialistic era of the 1980s, Goolrick’s novel--part Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero and part Brad Gooch’s Golden Age of Promiscuity--so draws on the excesses of Wall Street’s privileged and the ravaged young men dying of AIDS that it’s impossible to look away from a young man’s innocent journey to become an artist morphing into a prosperous life selling junk bonds and trash securities, making a hundred thousand dollars “every microsecond.”
“I was unmistakable in my vast illumination,” says Rooney.
His small, middle-class artistic desires are exchanged for the expansive bounty of the wider of world of “The Firm,” where the ultimate downfall of everything he holds precious is so sudden as to be almost unrecognizable. We first meet Rooney in his run-down apartment, Havel Hall, a decrepit place in which he lays awake at night thinking about the AIDS sufferers and the homeless, asking our forgiveness for once thinking that these were things that happened to other people on another planet. It’s 3:00am, and sleep will not come because “there are far too many ghosts in the room.”
Rooney tries desperately not to dwell on the past, the “roll and the flow” of his vulgar indiscretions and unbridled narcissism.
He admits that he has squandered his chances at finding happiness. He’s buried in guilt and remorse, and many of the men and women he spent so many years with are lost to him forever, these “darlings of his youth” who symbolized the addictions of his past. As the night seems to last for ages, Rooney talks about how he’s locked in “the darkness until the end of time” and has reached the age of regret in his hour of lamentation and self-pity. Rooney’s meticulously groomed future as a
Wall Street broker, “the pulse, the heartbeat of the decade,” has literally collapsed within months, with no communication
from the head of the firm since he was fired from the thirty-eighth floor with nothing more than a slap across the face.
The journey from young, good-looking hunk with a fantastic body and a wad of cash spent on drugs and money, enfolded in the embrace of “adrenaline and raging testosterone,“ to a meager existence as a clerk in a bookstore, living in his ramshackle Eastside walk-up, is fraught with self-deception, desperation, and the need to fashion truth from numerous treacheries. For years, Rooney lived
by the notion that he could get richer at the expense of people who had no money. Rooney’s activities of going to parties, getting drunk/high, and getting laid are chronicled in a hell-as-repetition way, with Goolrick incorporating a stark, unexpected humor that often catches us off guard.
Although I was neither sympathetic to Rooney’s circumstances nor to his efforts in begging for our forgiveness, I thought Goolrick’s writing so intimate that it was as if I had intruded upon a pair beautiful lovers in their throes of passion. The bittersweet moments of love found and love lost reverberate through a time when anything was possible and anything was allowed. Goolrick writes about a divided New York in those days, this “vibrant cauldron of desire,” a city that was a heady mix of “freedom and garbage,” of long nights in all those clubs and dark bathrooms where men and women mingled high on drugs, “grabbing for whatever skin there was.”
As the story moves into the later part of the decade, it is sometimes painful to read as Rooney witnesses firsthand the horrors of the AIDS epidemic, along with the friendships among his fellow traders, the shared commonality of their situation, the reality of death and the difficulty they have expressing any emotion. Suddenly the streets are filled with men infected and dying, all walking through the night and into dark clubs and alleys, high on coke and meth, Quaaludes and smack and flesh. One of Rooney’s co-workers becomes a martyr to love, a tragic end for a man who had lied to his family about the “sex between his legs and his heart.” Goolrick makes us want to reach out to him and rescue him and his ilk from the dangers of death--and equally so from the agony of life. As the decade lies dead, held forever in Rooney’s chest, Goolrick does a fine job of exploring the tattered corners of his protagonist’s grief and disappointment.
Goolrick does not incorporate swelling sentences or gushing adjectives. Instead, he uses sheer simplicity and straightforward dialogue to convey how deeply jaded Rooney has become.
Every character--from Rooney’s hostile ex-wife, Carmela, to Holly, a transvestite prostitute--is longing for something more but trying to go after it in a self-destructive, obsessive-compulsive
fashion. Goolrick’s novel is a gorgeous testament to Manhattan’s hedonistic world where money, greed, sex, and misdirected desire proved to be poor substitutes for
a sense of belonging.