Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Review

I just finished reading "How to Sell" by debut novelist Clancy Martin. I must say that it was quite the captivating read. Think of Denis Johnson's simple prose style of writing combined with the sex, drugs, and corruption of any Bret Easton Ellis or Jay McInerney character. The story is of two brothers who live to scam others out of their money in the jewelry business--not to be confused with the diamond business. The characters are terrible people committing seemingly harmless crimes--in the physical sense of the word. In one instance, a woman comes in to get her very expensive watch cleaned and adjusted. The watch is cleaned and adjusted, but then sold to another customer, that is waiting upstairs, to sweeten the deal. No worries though for the unsuspecting woman customer; they'll just give her a cheap mock-up in return and lead her to believe that she is actually coming out ahead on the deal.

There is some relief every now and then to remind that reader that these people are not completely heartless. A woman--they seem to be the most victimized in the jewelry trade--comes in and wants to sell an old ring handed down from her grandmother. She has her child with her, and she desperately needs at least a thousand dollars. Jim, Bobby's older brother, tells Bobby to offer her only $500 and that her grandmother must have lied to her about its worth. In actuality, it was worth upward of a couple thousand. Bobby could have listened to his brother, but instead he whispered to the woman to leave immediately and go to a different jeweler who would pay actual value for the ring. I felt a moment of relief at that point in the story; there weren't many.

Martin has an interesting background, nonetheless, for this kind of subject matter. Most of what he has written, he claims, is true. The kind of deception and criminality in the jewelry business is extremely prevalent. But he maintains that he is not Bobby Clark--the story's protagonist. An expose on Martin is available here, and it is quite an intriquing read. Here's an example:
In January, his wife found him in the closet with a bed sheet. He was trying to hang himself.

She saved him, quite literally, at which point he admitted to her — and to himself — that he had been secretly drinking and lying about it for three years.

He had become an alcoholic. Suicidal thoughts had been with him for years. He immediately vowed to stop drinking, and with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous has been clean for more than four months.

Some other information about Martin is that he is an associate professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; he first tried LSD in the fourth grade; he's currently working on a translation of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. It's a very good read, and I would think twice about walking into a jewelry store from now on if I were you.

Photo via Macmillan.

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