Saturday, April 25, 2015
Book Review: "The Fall of Princes" by Robert Goolrick
The 1980s were the decade of excess, the decade in which the Gordon Gekko-esque "Greed is good" mantra ruled Wall Street (and not just the Oliver Stone movie of the same name), and young "Masters of the Universe" raked in millions upon millions of bucks in financial trading, only to blow it through excessive spending, drugs, and sex. It was also the decade in which the promiscuity of the 1970s led to the horror of AIDS, the early days of which caused people to commit suicide, and family members and friends to shun those with the disease.
In Robert Goolrick's The Fall of Princes the 1980s are the backdrop for a lamentation of sorts, narrated by Rooney, who reached the highest of the highs as a trader for one of the elitest companies, only to plummet to the lowest of the lows a short while later. Rooney entered the Wall Street world as a young man somewhat confused about what direction his life would take, but once he realized the potential he had to make millions and millions of dollars, his ambition exploded, and he quickly became one of the most prolific young traders, earningand spendingan absolute fortune. He became known as one of the "BSDs," or "Big Swinging Dicks," the phrase somebody coined to describe this cocky band of brothers.
"When you strike a match, it burns brighter in the first nanosecond than it will ever burn again. That first incandescence. That instantaneous and brilliant flash. 1980 was the year, and I was the match, and that was the year I struck into blinding flame."
The exhilaration that came with the power and privilege of the job brought with it access to women (and men), alcohol, drugs, cigars, and the finest in fashion, vacations, homes, and other luxuries. But as Rooney tells it, while it required a herculean amount of effort to make the money, it was far, far too easy to spend it, especially in their efforts to have the best of everything.
The Fall of Princes traces Rooney's rise and fall, his friendships and romantic relationships, and the lives of those around him. You see the cocky, handsome, well-built, well-dressed specimen of a man he was, and the timid, regret-filled man he became, consumed with longing for the life he no longer had. Rooney takes you on a tour of a not-too-distant time, of trying to be the best and have it all, but realizing that all of the money in the world can't buy you love, or self-worth, or certainty of your place in the world.
While Rooney and his friends are much like the characters in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street, I still found his character utterly fascinating, and I found this book to be compelling, heartfelt, and far deeper and more complex than I thought it would be. Goolrick, whose earlier novels like A Reliable Wife and Heading Out to Wonderful captured simpler times further back in history, is an excellent chronicler of place and time, and really captures the high and low points of 1980s culture and society, as well as how life feels when you're in your ascent, as well as once you've hit your lowest point.
If you're fascinated by the culture of cocky excess that characterized the 1980s on Wall Street, or you like to see the conceited meet their downfall, you'll find The Fall of Princes a tremendously interesting book.