Sometimes he implored her pitifully. Mara, I love you. I need you. She nodded his way but with an expression so coarse that she might have been a junkie or a whore. He shivered.
He pushed back in the only way he knew. He tried to close the deal. He was sure that he could win her back with money, with glistening mahogany speedboats from forty years earlier. I sat in the tattered chair with my notebook while he gave her imported furniture from the Canada house, piece by piece. He watched her become more frustrated by what she could not have. He saw it, but he couldn't stop talking money.
Fred Waitzkin is the author of Searching for Bobby Fischer, a nonfiction book about his son, a chess prodigy, that was later made into a movie. The Dream Merchant is his first piece of fiction.
I found this story to be interesting. It wasn't really the "type" of story that I normally like, yet each part was so different from each other that it drew me in. I think this would make a great movie as well, although you would have to either cast a young man as Jim and then put on prosthetics/age makeup, or cast an older man as Jim and then somehow make him look younger - at the beginning of the story, Jim is around 75 years old, but when he tells of his youth and later years, he ranges from a child to about 55 years old.
Jim can sell anything to anyone. He uses street smarts and irresistible charms to lure in countless people who invest in his financial scams hoping to realize their dreams. But with every venture, just as quickly as Jim's fortunes rise, he loses everything, leaving disillusioned customers broke and ruined in his wake. To escape his past, he leaves the country to become a modern Lord Jim, operating a lawless and violent gold mining operation in the Brazilian rainforest. As an old man, he falls head over heels for Mara, a beautiful and ambitious Israeli woman fifty years his junior. In their unlikely life together, the girl finds herself erotically charged by the aged and financially ruined Jim, as if his past glory and big money might be recovered through her sexual attentions and dogged devotion.
Narrated by a writer who is equally mesmerized and, at times, repulsed by this larger-than-life character, THE DREAM MERCHANT is an irresistible mix of adventure and intrigue with ruthless and passionate characters. At its core, the novel is an unwavering look at the price of ambition and success, the indissoluble bonds of male friendship, and the unsettling nature of love and sexuality between a man and much younger woman.
It was an intriguing choice for Waitzkin to use a 3rd person narrator - that is to say, not "Jim did this" and "Jim did that," but an actual other person telling the story - a friend, of sorts, to Jim, who meets him when Jim was 55. This narrator, who is never named, wants to write a book about Jim, and he's been friends with him for the past 20 years. He definitely thinks Jim's life is exciting, but at the same time, he doesn't know what Mara - a 26-year-old woman - sees in Jim, and he wonders how long their relationship will last. It's inferred that he's around the same age as Jim, too, and sometimes he desires Mara as well, although he knows that it's an improbable desire.
The ending of this book, too, is something out of a fairy tale: all of the pieces end up clicking together. The way Waitzkin sets this up, it's not so unlikely; but it's definitely convenient for all involved.
The Dream Merchant will be on sale this Tuesday, March 26th. 3.5 stars out of 5.
*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.
Spring 2013 appearances for Fred Waitzkin:
Florida, NYC, San Francisco, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont
- TODAY, March 23, Books & Books, 5pm, Coral Gables
- Sunday, March 24, Palm Beach Bookstore, 4:30pm, Palm Beach
- Monday, March 25, Vero Beach Book Center, 6pm, Vero Beach
- Thursday, March 28, Barnes & Noble, 7pm, Fort Myers, FL (13751 Tamiami Trail)
- Tuesday, April 2, The Strand, 7pm, NYC (828 Broadway)
- Wednesday, April 17, Book Passage, 7pm, Corte Madera
- Thursday, May 2, Porter Square Books, 7pm, Cambridge
- Tuesday, May 7, Broadside Bookshop, 7pm, Northampton
- Thursday, May 9, Water Street Bookstore, 7pm, Exeter
- Friday, May 10, Northshire Books, 7pm, Manchester Center