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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Trip at the Top

Trip at the Top
by Ethan Cooper
(5/5 stars)

If there's one thing all of us humans have in common, it's that we all live with some amount of self-delusion.  Have you ever gone out on a warm summer day and seen a 300-pound woman wearing a skimpy dress and wondered, "How could she possibly think that looks good?"  Chances are she really does think that looks good on her, which is the kind of self-delusion I'm talking about.

Another such case is Julian Duff.  Julian lives in Manhattan and runs a small publishing firm that creates business newsletters.  Back in the 90s it was a thriving business, but with the rise of the Internet, Julian's company is hitting on hard times.  He's already had to borrow money from the bank and his brother-in-law in order to keep the company afloat.  Some of that money Julian has also used to finance a summer house, as well as sending his two kids to a fancy private school, supporting his wife's charitable arts projects, and investing with a movie producer in low budget films like "Zombalien."

But don't worry, on the day featured in "Trip at the Top," Julian has a surefire plan to fix all his problems.  The first is to meet with the movie producer to get back his investment.  Then he's going to meet with his old partner John Fund, from whom Julian bought the company when John began suffering from kidney trouble, in order to get John to reinvest on a limited basis.  All of this will lead in to Julian's meeting with Pediment Press, a rival firm Julian hopes to acquire with a leveraged buyout.  In between that there's a lunch appointment with his wife Darla to go over furnishings for their new kitchen with an unlimited budget.

As you might expect, things don't go so well in all these meetings.  What soon becomes clear is that Julian is fooling himself.  Through glimpses of other people around him, we see his wife is about the only other person Julian is fooling, and perhaps his sycophantic assistant Miri.  Everyone from the movie producer, to John Fund, to Pediment Press, to Julian's accountant can see he's in big trouble. 

Yet as his day unravels, Julian doesn't take it too hard.  After all, each problem is only a minor setback.  Success is just around the corner!  If not this corner than perhaps the next one.

One of the things I appreciate is that Julian doesn't change.  Self-delusion like Julian's is almost impossible to shake off, especially in one day.  No matter how many times he gets kicked, Julian keeps dreaming the impossible dream.  I imagine even when he's bankrupt and living on the street he'll continue to think success will be just around the next corner if only he plays it right.

As I've come to expect from reading all of Ethan Cooper's books, this novel is free of big soap opera-type twists someone like me would include.  It's more of a character sketch of a man who like all of us keeps thinking his ship will come in.

That is all.

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