Bledin's debut, a survey of rookie investment bankers struggling to survive the Street, is a sometimes successful menagerie of toady, loathsome bosses, wry observations from the Starbucks queue and sophomoric pranks. Narrator Mumbles and his friends—Clyde (who "just doesn't give a damn"), Postal Boy (whose twitching eye and high-strung disposition has everyone "convinced he's going to lose it one day") and the Defeated One (who endures the 100-hour workweeks to support his girlfriend and his coke habit)—endeavor to master the art of the spreadsheet and maintain their ever-diminishing relationship with the outside world while keeping their shirts starched, their bloodstream caffeinated and their imaginations greased with fantasies of flight or revenge. A veteran of the finance sector, Bledin knows his turf, and though he brings little new to the office lit picnic, his tale of cubicle rancor and awkward romances is well-paced, humorous and endearing. (May 1)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Bankby David Bledin
In this enormously entertaining first novel, a lovable, stressed-out guy nicknamed Mumbles tells the story of how he and his cohorts not
Every July, a fresh crop of college graduates clad in spiffy new suits fills the offices of investment banking firms, each newly minted analyst longing for big money while sacrificing anything that resembles a normal life.
In this enormously entertaining first novel, a lovable, stressed-out guy nicknamed Mumbles tells the story of how he and his cohorts not only struggle to survive corporate purgatory, but also find satisfying ways to strike back at the system. Fueled by a constant flow of Starbucks coffee, Mumbles and his friends take on such tasks as secretly filming a despised colleague's boardroom romp with an assistant, creating footage they plan to broadcast at the company's holiday party. But true gratification comes only when they actually start standing up to the bank's evil minions, those who have no qualms about piling on a weekend's worth of work on a Friday afternoon.
With sharp comedy, episodes of inspired hijinks, and its glimpse into a world of fleeting elevator romances and not-so-infrequent nervous breakdowns, BANK is a touching and lively novel that is, at its heart, about figuring out what really matters in life.
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Read an Excerpt
By David Bledin
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2007 David Bledin
All right reserved.
You know that random idea, this one: If you shove an infinite number of monkeys before an infinite number of typewriters, in a couple of days they're bound to type up every literary masterpiece conceived by their more evolved brethren, albeit with a smattering of typos? Can't you see their furry brown heads bobbing up and down, a few of the more pretentious sporting spectacles and blunt pencils behind their ears, hands pushing keys with a furious sense of purpose, of fulfilling this rhetorical whimsy?
It's an allegory for the Street, sort of. Not that there's an infinite number of us, only a couple thousand confined to our steel-and-concrete spires, and we're not all so hirsute. I'm a bit hairy (my dad's side of the family), have ears that stick out from the sides of my head, and tend to chew on my lower lip, so physically I'm about as close as it gets.
And I'm not typing up the next Great American Novel perched on this wobbly IKEA swivel chair at two in the morning at the end of another non-weekend weekend, meaning I've worked the entire two days. It's a Mergers & Acquisitions spreadsheet calculating what would happen if a huge trucking conglomerate operating out of the Midwest decided to buy seventy-three derelict grain silos down the coastline of California. The spreadsheet's 226 pages. Version 63b. A veritable beast. It's taken four months (off and on) to put together. It's beautiful in its own lunacy, the way raving homeless people can sometimes trick you into believing they're prophets. There's toggles for everything: what would happen if tornadoes wreaked havoc in Missouri, if competitors purchased the silos, if a random terrorist attack resulted in the silos being blown to smithereens, erupting in gales of sulfur and the blackened feathers of pigeons roosting in the rafters. Because that's extremely likely: Al-Qaeda plotting away, twirling their beards - The silos, we get the silos and victory is ours! - and throwing their heads back with the inevitable sinister cackling.
I'm almost done, though. Just have to figure out why this balance sheet doesn't balance, pretty sure it's a tax thing, and -
The monitor goes black.
Oh frickin' dear.
Heart palpitations. I'm breathing funny. Heat rushing up my neck, through my trachea or esophagus, whichever the tube, then spreading downward, so that my fingers and toes tingle. Is this what it feels like to get a heart attack at the tender age of twenty-three? What ever happened to being virile, to being in my physical prime, for god's sake? (It's all gone. The last saved version is from eight o'clock, six hours ago.)
I scream. I'm hoping for a thunderous barbarian roar, a bellow to clatter the windows, at the very least some sound that will tear the Star - one of the other analysts who sit in my neck of the woods - away from his spreadsheet, but it comes out as more of a whimper, the sound a small animal like a ferret would make if it was accidentally kicked down the basement stairs.
The phone rings: blocked number. Those weird heart palpitations start up again. It could be the Sycophant, my VP, having tossed and turned in his twin bed (he's recently separated) until he derived a completely revamped approach to the merger.
"Why didn't you call me?"
A flood of relief. It's not the Sycophant.
"This really isn't a good time."
"When is a good time? There hasn't been a good time in the last three weeks."
"Out of all the not-so-good times, this one is probably the worst."
Silence on the other end. I feel an eerily familiar nagging sensation. Yes, it was there at lunch, again at dinner, only for a few seconds before the onslaught of work fizzled it out.
"It's past midnight. You officially missed my birthday."
Of course it was her birthday.
"Look, I ..."
"It was my goddamn birthday."
There's not much I can say to that. I should have called. Without a doubt, I should have called. Yet the injustice of it, that here I am at two in the morning on a Sunday (technically Monday), and it's not like I'm cavorting around the streets, chugging beer after beer, groping her best friend's breast while I thumb-type groggy birthday wishes into my BlackBerry.
"You're such a bastard."
"Wait, it's not what you -"
Brusquely interrupting, the Girlfriend says, her tone imperious, "You do realize this is the end, right?"
"The end of what?"
"Our relationship. No, scratch that, our anti- relationship."
"But we have an agreement."
I interpret the agreement as follows: She's a fiercely independent redhead in her final year of a master's degree in art history, studying to become a museum curator or a gallery owner, who once confessed she likes the idea of having a boyfriend without really having a boyfriend. I'm a banker, horribly lonely, and I need a focal point for my wealth accumulation, a raison d'être for this bout of slavery, and I enjoy the occasional hand job (you're not exactly a Don Juan when you're consistently pulling one-hundred-hour weeks). To put it bluntly, it's a relationship of convenience for twenty-somethings.
"The agreement's off. My hand is tired."
"That's a low blow."
"Hey, it's the truth."
"We'll go for dinner next week. That Italian place in the Village."
I sound defeated. The Tenuous Girlfriend chuckles wearily.
"You really don't get it, huh?"
"No, I really don't."
Her voice is softer, with not a hint of self-righteousness anymore: "I don't know how it happened, I've been thinking about it and none of it makes any sense, but somehow or other I did the stupid thing and fell in love with you. God forbid genuine feelings should ever creep into this clinical business arrangement we have going, but that's how it is: I really do love you. And I know it's selfish of me to expect you to just stop, to become a vegan farmer or a bassist in an indie band, I'm not asking that of you, but god, couldn't you at least call me on my birthday? I mean, is that such a crazy thing, to want you to pick up the phone for two full minutes and talk to me?"
Silence slips out the pores of the receiver, engulfing the room. I know she's granting me this window of opportunity to backtrack with just a few syllables: I'm truly sorry. I love you, too. I'll be better next time. Then gaining momentum: We can take a trip somewhere; let's head to the Cape next weekend.
But I just can't do it. This is why I cannot do it:
Hope you're still at the office. I've been thinking about the model for the trucking deal, the revenue-optimizing correlation in particular. Decided we should do the inverse. Remember Client coming in 8 am, so want to see this by 6 at the latest. If there's an emergency, get my BlackBerry. Don't call - you'll wake my son.
Blurted out reflexively, the receiver still at my ear.
"I can't believe you -"
"Wait. An e-mail. VP wants the model changed around completely. Cussing is not relevant to anything you just said."
I try to gush it all out before she can hang up on me.
No answer. There's no dial tone, though, so she might still be on the other end.
"Are you still there?"
An awkward pause, then a barely audible "Yes."
I put my head in my hands, rubbing at my forehead, an exaggerated gesture for nobody's benefit.
"Look, I'm just so tired."
For a second I think I'm going to add to this, spew words worthy of a Shakespearean sonnet, soft, billowy metaphors that somehow don't seem contrived, but no - my head is throbbing, my body is chewing up its own tissue in a foolhardy effort to stay awake, and I have no fucking clue what this revenue-optimizing correlation is all about. So I repeat:
"I'm just so tired. I'm sorry, I know I should say something else. But I've got this terrible headache and I can't think straight and I've still got to put through this change to the model."
She's sobbing now. Nothing overly dramatic; muffled heaving racing along the phone wires. One of the sobs gets lodged in her throat, then breaks free in a wretched hiccup.
"I can't hate you. You said it would be exactly like this right at the beginning. You weren't trying to sugarcoat it or anything. I guess I just didn't believe you. Or maybe I never considered we'd get to the point where I'd actually care how much time we spend together."
I kind of know what she's expecting from me. If I'd just woken up fresh from an eight-hour sleep, if we were sitting outside on a beautiful terrace drinking really good coffee, I feel I'd know exactly what to do. The Girlfriend's not a drama queen - she's smart and genuine and wouldn't want me to say things just for the sake of hearing them. It would have to be more subtle: This is all so comfortable, the coffee, sitting here like this. Or maybe not saying anything at all, just reaching out and touching her cheek, or the back of her neck or something.
But right now it's just not going to happen. It's as if this super-empathetic version of me is goofing around on another planet, trapped under impenetrable layers of fog. And this current me is only a dried-up husk barely capable of forming understandable syntax, let alone trying to navigate a situation as delicate as this one.
"I just can't deal with this right now."
"I'm not going to call again. And please don't call me."
"No, I'm really serious about this. I'm not upset with you, I don't blame you for any of it. I feel bad for myself, sure, but I feel worse for you. Anyway, nothing good is going to come out of me being confrontational right now. Well, good luck."
A moment passes when I know I should be feeling a poetic sense of loss and desertion, but in my current predicament it comes out as more of a relief. Oh shucks. So be it. It's probably for the better anyway; I had no idea what was going to follow that "I -."
I slip into zombie mode. It's official when I'm scrolling down my spreadsheet without doing anything, staring listlessly at the screen while my fingers go click! clack! click! against the keyboard. Delete a number. Carry a formula across. Delete a sheet. Should I have deleted that sheet? Probably not. Close the file without saving. Reopen file.
I shrug off my fugue to grab a Coke from the fridge. The first sip is glorious, that slightly acrid taste on my tongue. My body loves this Coke, has triumphantly declared Coke the nectar of the gods. It has to be some near-perfect formula; how else could it be so popular in the West, coveted by little children in Africa, guzzled down by misplaced pygmy tribes? I've got thirty minutes of a sugar rush before I'm going to crash and burn; I need to make sense of the revenue-optimizing correlation in that time frame, and hopefully the rest can be finished up while I'm semicomatose.
There it is, right at the bottom of the second-to-last tab, the work a summer student put together two months back because I couldn't cancel dinner plans with the (now Ex) Girlfriend for the fourth time in a week. It feels funny to dwell on saving a relationship that just ended earlier tonight. Funny to dwell on summer students, these young whippersnappers (look at me calling them whippersnappers when I'm, what, one, at most two, years older) who come to the Bank for a few weeks of kissing ass, hoping to get an offer by the end of their term. Everybody paints the industry in rosy colors because they're as innocent as little lambs. So let them make their own decisions. Don't tell them your dirty little secrets: how you seriously consider doing a flying leap out the window at least once every ten minutes; how you look at hot-dog vendors and homeless people and the guy who scrapes gum off park benches and think, Hey, at least they're not shackled to a computer for twenty hours at a stretch. Instead, there's the nauseating enthusiasm: Look at me, look at me, I was destined for this stuff, I popped out of the womb with a receding hairline and a holster for my BlackBerry.
Calculating the inverse of the revenue-optimizing correlation involves changing E56, one measly cell. It's frustrating to consider I could have changed E56 two hours ago and called it a night, but, thank the lord, it could have been worse. Switch a 1 to a 0. Easy-peasy. I'm about to save the file, flipping through a few of the worksheets, when I spot it:
Farther down: #REF! #REF! #REF! #REF! #REF! #REF!
The third sheet is an entire field of #REF!s, those malevolent little imps clamoring for my attention. The source is a circular reference, which means you have a cell referencing another cell that's referencing the original cell - heh, don't worry about it. Take my word that it's a messy situation. A recently dumped, dead-tired investment banker just doesn't stand a chance.
An hour passes with minimal progress. It's always at this point of unbearable bleakness, the overhead lighting in the musty corridors of your brain flickering off bulb by bulb, when you have your brief flash of lucidity. Here it comes, right on schedule:
Nobody cares. Not the Star (who still sits across the room, mirthfully plunking away at his keyboard), not the Sycophant, nor anybody else at the Bank. Nobody gives a damn. And why should they care? You're but one of a few hundred monkeys drooling all over yourself, pumping your bloodstream full of sugar and caffeine, slaving away for a few decades so you can eventually have a long shot at a soft pink creature with shapely legs who'll bear your hairy countenance and stick-out ears for a couple of years while your yacht is moored off the Italian Riviera.
There's a flip side, though: This moment of heightened awareness is also when the monkey transcends its monkeyness. It sees an infinite array of paths looming on the horizon. It can do anything, be anything. See the hole in the mesh cage by the pile of rotten banana peels? That, my fellow monkeys, is freedom. Enough with scratching our butts and licking our fingers in public, swinging endlessly from branch to branch only to elicit a few nervous laughs from otherwise sullen tourists. Come, my brothers and sisters, let us truly live up to our anthropological status as proto-men.
I turn off the monitor and place my head on the desk. It's an awkward position - I'm going to have a sore back in the morning, paper-clip imprints on my cheek - but right now it's pure bliss. The only sounds are the soothing drone of the ventilation unit, the clicking of the Star's fingers racing across the keyboard. The Star, who does not sleep. The Star, who, defying all logical constructs I have developed about this world, is somehow able to love this job. Passionately. You'll be talking to him about this movie you managed to squeeze into your weekend, and all of a sudden he'll have this eerie smile, rock back and forth on his heels, and blurt out, "How great is this? I mean, can you really see yourself doing anything else?"
Try sleeping, buddy.
I nod off. Truly horrible dreams. Not the nightmares of my youth, where old men with wizened faces and rusty box cutters popped up between the cracks of shuttered windows. Not even visions, really. I'm dreaming of Excel functions: tabulating columns, inserting rows, vanquishing the circular references and thereby eliminating the evil #REF!s. Even with the body pleading for release, for just a meager half hour of uninterrupted REM sleep, the mind plays its most sinister trick: It will not shut itself off.
I wake to slivers of glaring August sunlight pouring in through the window across the hall. I feel terrible - tongue caked in halitosis, neck stiff. I'm still exhausted, though my head is no longer pounding as much. Aside from the wrinkles, my shirt has a mysterious brown swath across the front that I don't remember from last night. I turn on my monitor and check the time: 8:15. I won't have time to gohome and change before the client meeting.
Client meeting. Fifteen minutes ago.
The zookeeper cracks his whip. The monkey loses its glimmer of transcendence and curls up in a fetal position by the pile of rotten bananas.
Excerpted from Bank by David Bledin Copyright © 2007 by David Bledin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
David Bledin has cubicle-hopped in both investment banking and economic consulting. BANK is his first novel.
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I read it during my lunchbreaks, and co-workers kept popping their heads in to see what was going on, because I was laughing so hard. This reminds me a little of office space, but on a different level. I really look forward to more by this author. I am definately going to read this one again!