It’s the end of civilization as we know it when language is bastardized to perpetrate the vapid corporate-speak that allows a swarm of predators to build a business model based on speculation, to dress concepts as assets and obfuscate the truth: that an entire industry is built on subterfuge, a smokescreen for greed and the excitement of risk. In hindsight, we know how the story ends, from post-9/11 to the mid-2000s. International business fuels this manic ride, Stathis Rakis a Greek citizen whose bright intellect allows him a ride on the fast track with an assortment of friends on the cusp of success through global finance. Among his well-heeled and driven set, Stathis
is always slightly out of step, acutely conscious that what is often inherited
by his cronies must be gained by hard work on his part, breeding a need for
constant achievement behind a façade of indifference, “too foreign to be one of
them, too cynical to turn back.”
Despite his yearning for the elusive, socially-conscious Erik, who eschews his family wealth for the causes of the common man (particularly sustainability), Stathis knows his only salvation is in building a successful image, no matter how this model threatens his relationship with Erik. Always parsing Erik’s pronouncements to find significance in the most mundane of exchanges, Stathis is the pursuer, rarely the pursued, in a cultural landscape rife with excess, dugs, casual sex, and greed in the age of Wall Street legerdemain, a wired world where image trumps honesty and the fog of cocaine or Ambien excuses a moral wasteland that is the playpen of these overindulged, integrity-challenged purveyors of profit: “Today, being ubiquitous is more important than being correct or effective. Being everywhere is is being effective.”
The party rages on, Stathis caught up in a corporate merry-go-round of double-speak (“nexting”; “cele-brands”) riding the wave of his “abundance paradigm”--and crossing swords with a particularly vicious company mentor--while his doomed relationship with Erik grows more impossible to sustain. It is a vicious cycle of smoke and mirrors with little emotional reward but a surfeit of drug-addled sexual encounters from San Francisco to New York and more exotic international locales. These young men, this new breed, are creatures of the world where finance has leapt borders and oceans, constrained only by the creative imaginations of those conversant with chance.
The cast of characters is out of the Andy Warhol datebook, clad in Wall Street chic, ultimately featureless and sexless, as easy to forget as the
sturm und drang of a sad young man’s foray into what looks like paradise but is really Dante’s
Inferno. Eventually, it becomes one long drug fugue absent reason or direction, a protagonist slowly waking from a dream. Like the doomed protagonist in
Bright Lights, Big City, Rakis is no Gatsby, Pappas’s prose contemporary, gutter-smart and sweat-slick, but hardly a match for F. Scott Fitzgerald. Like the hype that pushes market share and profit, the accolades that attend the novel offer a tantalizing romp through the land of the privileged few. More realistically, Hotel Living is closer to a morning-after hangover: there is a lingering sense of relief that the unbridled release of inhibitions has not intruded into real life, the cacophony silenced by the closing cover of a modern-day Grimm’s fairy tale, monsters and all. “This is how the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.” (TS Eliot, “The Hollow Men”).