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I’d have done lot better with Cortright McMeel’s Short if the publishers had put the glossary and explanatory notes in the front instead of the back. Maybe it’s my bad, but I didn’t even know they were there till I’d finished, and it didn’t occur to me to check. Instead, I spent a lot of time baffled and angry over passages like this:

The strategy to bankrupt Andrews’s Cinergy hub position would be two-pronged.

One, the Ghost would enlist brokers, inform them of Andrews’s position, which they would in turn share with Andrews’s counterparts at competing firms in the Cinergy market. These traders would then short sell the market against Andrews’s long position. As for the brokers, they would back the Ghost’s play over Andrews’s. The Ghost did more size, which meant more commissions, meaning the Ghost paid them, and the repeating monkeys…would do his bidding.


You can get the broad outlines of a plot buried under the jargon, but the details are obscure and the terminology throws a scrim between the uninitiated reader and the action.

But behind the argot (and not even behind said argot if you check the glossary), Short is one hell of a novel. Dialogue is original, efficient, gritty,funny. Elmore Leonard quality. The characters are commodity traders, and as you might expect in a world where financial life-and-death risks are the daily bread, you have a collection of individuals who do not live by rules of 9-to-5 suburban security. They are drunks, high-fliers, score-chasers (financial and sexual) who live life on the random and precarious edge 24-7. I mean who would try to make put food and whisky on the table by betting the farm on such matters as whether Katrina will hit land east or west of Florida?

As you might expect, when the stakes are this high, skullduggery is rife, and McMeel puts us in the middle of an evil and intricate plot that’s fascinating, and the suspense builds. As the central action plays out, a number of engrossing subplots follow the personal lives of the main characters outside the trading floor. None of them is a model citizen, and if I hadn’t recently read a book called The Monster (See Writer Working, Dec. 3, 2010) about the abuses inside the mortgage-swindle market, I would have thought it unrealistic to build a novel around an industry with no good guys. But given the real-life scenario of The Monster and the sleazeballs involved in that situation, it’s easy to believe the greed and exploitation mentality of Short, which depicts  the corruption of an entire subculture. Who else would be willing to play a game like this for long?

It’s only my speculation that the world of Short is meant to stand to some extent for the entire transitory, materialistic, ripoff nature of modern American culture, but whether McMeel means it that way or not, The parallel seems clear to me. The one significant female character in the book is an artist, who spends a lot of effort trying to break into and out of the commercial world of her world. She finally figures out that she can’t be an artist married to a trader, at least not this one, but she’s still after the world of the chic gallery, so whether she breaks free in the end is open to question. It’s a Hobbesian world McMeel has given us, and looking over the national landscape at this point, I cannot say it’s not so all over. I hope I will live long enough to where I can say, this is only a dark corner of a clean house. Right now, these guys own not only the house, but the whole neighborhood. You can bet the farm on that.

sitting up clapping

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