We Need to Talk About Money... & Fiction
Contemporary fiction "often seems to have a positive aversion to the depiction of work in general, and financial work in particular," John Lanchester (whose latest novel, Capital, is about, well, money) observed in a Globe and Mail essay. He suggested three possible reasons for this word-spending deficit in literary fiction:
The definition of "literary"
Speed of change
After blaming the current reticence on Henry James, who "had a sense of what was and was not appropriate as the domain of Art," Lanchester noted that thriller authors haven't been nearly as squeamish about handling the topic of filthy lucre in high places, citing the examples of Arthur Hailey (The Moneychangers), Paul Erdman (The Set-Up, etc.) and Robert Harris (The Fear Index).
I've become hooked on Norb Vonnegut's big money novels: Top Producer, The Gods of Greenwich and, most recently, The Trust. Drawing upon his Wall Street background, he crafts tales of wealth management skullduggery that do not require a copy of the Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms to follow, thus successfully handling the "complexity" issue.
"Speed of change," however, will continue to be a primary challenge for authors, as "top producers" and their "products" adapt to market and legal fluctuations. In Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis, a character says that money has "lost its narrative quality the way painting did once upon a time. Money is talking to itself." Vonnegut deftly handles this challenge by engaging directly in the conversation. As he notes on his website, "When the money talks... I listen. And I write."
The connection between fiction and money is deep-rooted. As appalled as I am by each Wall Street scandal, I'm equally fascinated with the primal depths of human greed (see Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce in Charles Dickens's Bleak House for a historical literary precedent). When money talks, I read. Even if it is talking to itself, I still can't resist eavesdropping. --Robert Gray, contributing editor, Shelf Awareness