Rich people, it’s often said, are no different from everyone else. If you buy that concept, might I interest you in this nice bridge I happen to own? Now, Tommy Quinn wouldn’t call himself “rich,” just “upper middle-class” - a distinction that is likely lost on your average blue-collar guy. If not actually rich, however, the Quinn family certainly knows wealthy folks. That’s how Tommy, who barely escaped Georgetown with a BA in liberal studies (“cum nihilo,” he says, suggesting that perhaps he was awake for at least one Latin class), wound up with a $15K signing bonus and a slot in this year’s training class at a major investment bank. His lack of expertise, not to mention interest, in matters financial seems of no matter to J.S. Spenser – a few phone calls and a couple of favors are all it takes to put him on a fast track to a high six-figure income.
The rich make friends like common folk, too – consider Tommy and Roger Thorne, who seemingly bond for life on the basis of similar taste in shoes (expensive) and wrist watches (ruinously expensive). Roger's connections – the boss is one of his elder sister's multitude of college bedmates – get the friends into the coveted Mergers and Acquisitions Department. Apparently making millions of dollars for doing very little is right up Roger's alley. But even as Roger’s career at JSS soars like the proverbial eagle, Tommy’s seems to be circling the drain. In fact, he proves to be one of the most inept bankers in JSS history - breaking "new ground as a financial pioneer, the first and only man ever to successfully convert the U. S. dollar into itself. This [he] did at the rate of 1.58 U.S. dollars to the U.S. dollar." Roger, on the other hand, is golden - this despite spending most of his workday surfing for Internet porn and perusing supermarket tabloids.
With assignments becoming less fiscal and more demeaning – "get my son on the waiting list at Burke Academy" – Tommy's career appears to be headed for a spectacular episode of self-immolation. Life at home is no picnic, either: the love of his life, the fabulously wealthy and drop-dead gorgeous Frances Sloan, grows despondent in his absence and takes up a few troubling habits. Desperately staking the future of both career and romance on the Latin American Mergers Department's annual junket to Cabo San Lucas, Tommy willingly follows Roger on a week-long festival of hedonism during which a tiny bit of work may also get done (Roger, of course, is along only for the hedonism).
What happens next is a testament to that type of charmed existence sometimes known as "chicken sandwich luck," since the possessor could stick his hand into an open sewer and pull out a chicken sandwich ready for lunch. Tommy learns that while money can't buy happiness, it certainly seems possible to negotiate a good deal on one's destiny.
In our allegedly classless society, the lives of the rich and thereby famous have become as fascinating to the man on the street as those of Britain's peers are to the folks down at the local. Would Donald Trump, an otherwise ordinary big-haired, arrogant loudmouth have a string of televisions shows if he were poor? Probably not…
Each generation has had its literary views of what really goes on at the country clubs and other playgrounds of the wealthy, books such as The Great Gatsby and The Group. A strong contender for this generation's guide to the upper classes, Dana Vachon's Mergers and Acquisitions takes readers on a whirlwind tour of life among the privileged in the early twenty-first century. If we are to believe Vachon, it's territory populated in the main by the vacuous, the vapid, and the venal. Competence appears to have been bred out of the current generation of the wealthy, their daily lives instead consumed by an endless whirl of parties, meaningless copulation, and trophy possessions – with Tommy's friend Roger Thorne a perfect avatar of his generation. That's not to say, according to Tommy Quinn's observations, that the previous generation of social climbers has performed any better. Needless to say, if the financial future of society rests in the hands of so indolent a group, we're in a heap of trouble.
In Mergers and Acquisitions, Vachon has penned a convincing depiction of young turks on Wall Street and the thin, pretty, blonde women who bed them. After all, Vachon was once a rookie financier for J.P. Morgan himself – and he claims that every character in his tale is based on people he actually knows (if true, one hopes he has an unlisted phone number). At times annoyingly immature – consider the requisite fart and spew jokes – and yet as fascinating as watching a train wreck in slow motion, Mergers and Acquisitions is not merely important for pulling back the curtain on the lives of the moneyed young, it's also important for the realization that at least one of their number – the narrator, Tommy – can find the means and energy to rise above the culture of dudeness exemplified by his friend Roger and, finally, begin to come of age. Perhaps there's hope yet.