The premise of New Yorker movie reviewer David Denby’s sober memoir about losing a whole lotta money in the stock market sounds like a slo-mo Upper West Side version of the Holly-wood actioners the aesthetically conservative critic eschews. Faced with the loss of his beloved classic seven when his wife, novelist Cathleen Schine, leaves him, Denby gives himself one year to muster a cool million and buy out her share of the “gold mine.”
Title aside, the results of his lopsided investments in the tech sector during the new millennium’s bear years (“a wild, dangerous, and, finally, tragic era”) are a foregone conclusion you may already have read about in scientific sucker John Allen Paulos’s A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market or Jewish sucker Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s Taking Stock: A Spiritual Guide to Rising Above Life’s Financial Ups and Downs. And this isn’t the first time Denby has squeezed literary lemonade out of despair: An earlier midlife crisis resulted in 1996’s Great Books, his well-intentioned slog through a pair of Columbia humanities courses he’d taken 30 years earlier.
Man and market walk hand in invisible hand in American Sucker. Internet porn and a couple of post-separation affairs cause Denby’s libido to spike and (mostly) dip. He befriends eventually disgraced Wall Street analyst Henry Blodget and eventually imprisoned ImClone founder Sam Waksal, fluttering in their reflected glory like New York magazine gadfly Michael Wolff without the ironic armor. Taking himself as seriously as he does, Denby sometimes comes off as a West Side William Bennett, mixing top-down virtue with an uptown gambling problem. But who, in the end, is the greater fool? Not Denby, who finally adopts the Real Simple lifestyle in lieu of paper wealth, makes a bundle on the apartment, and discovers “renewal forged out of economic failure” in a little movie called 8 Mile. Take that, sucker VCs!