William Tobias Merrick, an energetic young man from the provinces, travels to the big city in a time of great optimism and ferment, hoping to make his mark on a frenzied, money-crazed society obsessed with the promise of new technologies.The city in question is London in the 1690s; but it is also New York in the 1990s. The new technologies are diving bells, pneumatic winches, and "sucking-worm" drainage engines; but they are also wireless telecommunication devices, patented biotechnology processes, and revolutionary electronic Internet routers. Only the sense of unlimited possibility remains the same throughout.Unfolding simultaneously in two distant--but remarkably similar--periods of history, Extravagance is a comic, pictaresque novel of financial mania, the story of a world gripped by a terminal case of irrational exuberance.
Krist (Chaos Theory; Bad Chemistry) uses the analogous market excesses of the 1690s and the 1990s as dual, parallel settings for a young mans journey up the business ladder as he tries to make his fortune through the stock market. The protagonist of this syncopated narrative is Will Merrick, a precocious young man who moves to the city to try to fulfill his rags-to-riches dreams: in 17th-century London he is a stock jobber whose task is to try to capitalize on such new technologies as winches and drainage engines, and on Wall Street during the frenetic dot-com days of the late 1990s he is a financial spy in a high-stakes IPO deal. While he makes his way through the two labyrinthine monetary worlds, a romantic subplot finds Merrick wooing (in both timelines) the rich, strong-willed and mischievous Eliza Fletcher, who leads him through a series of on-again, off-again dates and interludes that cause Merrick to question his identity as a clever rich guy on the make. Krist pulls off an impressive feat with his careful plotting as Merrick bounces back and forth between eras, opportunities and moral quandaries; unfortunately, the London in the 1690s part of the narrative fades as the book progresses, and the love affair is competent but rarely compelling. Nonetheless, Krists ambition is laudable, and the novel is a worthwhile read, especially when he gets his complex narrative to click on all cylinders. 3-city author tour.(Sept. 24) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 09, 2003
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Excerpt from Extravagance by Gary Krist
In September of the year 169-, I, William Tobias Merrick--twenty years old and possessed of more sense and education than prospects--was sent from my father's house at Exeter to live with my bachelor uncle, a prominent wine merchant of Wapping, near London. It was thought that I, being the fourth son in a family whose brickworks would only comfortably support three, might learn something there of the shipping trade, my uncle's connexions in this area being quite extensive. Neither my father nor my uncle saw fit to consult me in this matter. Having assumed that any young man should welcome the chance to work amid great seagoing ships, they regarded my opinions as settled beforehand. Thus it never came into their consideration that I disliked the sea above all things, and had once resolved, during an intolerable bark crossing from Cardiff to Portishead some years past, never to set foot on the boards of a ship again.
Wapping--as viewed from the horse cart sent to fetch me upon my arrival day--seemed a foul and smoky place. Ships of all sizes lined the blackstone wharves along the Thames, groaning under rank-smelling cargoes of charcoal, wool, indigo, tea, and all else imaginable that a seaworthy craft might hold. The high street, such as it was then, was thronged with a considerable array of humanity--watermen and sailmakers, lightermen and coopers, not to mention members of the other trades, both respectable and not, associated with large river ports. As one reared amid the quiet lanes of Exeter, I knew at once there would be novelties here to fill a year of idle Sundays. And see them I would. Suspecting my uncle to be a man much engaged in his business--and one who might regard his obligations to me as more sentimental than actual--I anticipated his having but little time for my supervision. Thus did I hope to be left largely to my own devices, free to set off into the streets and there occupy myself in the manner of any young man new to the city and eager to take a Dutchman's draught of life--that is, I would take myself to the coffee-houses and the theatres and the taverns, though without much idea of what precisely I would find there.
I was at this time a healthy, energetic fellow--well-made but slender in form, restless in manner yet still more so in my thoughts and aspirations. Through my father's generosity, I had conducted early studies with my home tutor and at the Rev. Charles Tuffley's school in Exeter, though it was no one's true expectation that I should pursue a clerical preferment. For I was victim to what my father called an Excess of Animal Spirits, and it was quite apparent to all that life in a Devonshire vicarage would hardly be consonant with my nature. I fancied myself in any case a Deist (much to the Rev. Tuffley's dismay), and would probably have refused a Bishopric at three thousand a year if one had been offered me. Nor, however, was I any more usefully engaged during a year at Trinity College, Cambridge, where the tutors could speak of naught but Plato and like ancients, for which I had but little patience. Why, I would wonder aloud, if there be a Form in Heav'n for every thing we spy on earth, how is there money?