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How to Sell: A Novel Hardcover – May 12, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A Canadian in 1987 goes to Texas and gets crushingly corrupted in Martin's sexy, funny and devastating debut. Bobby Clark is 16 when he leaves a dead-end setup with his single mother and grass-is-greener girlfriend, Wendy, and heads to Fort Worth to get into the fine jewelry business under the stewardship of his salesman brother, Jim. In no time, Bobby and Jim are snorting lines, Bobby's moving in on (and smoking crank with) Jim's mistress, Lisa, and getting a crash course in amazingly crooked business. Scams, bait-and-switch deals, bogus jewelry and startling treachery are day-to-day at the jewelry store, until the store's gregarious owner gets into trouble at the same time Bobby tries to save Lisa from a massive flame-out. Years later, Bobby's back in Fort Worth, married to Wendy (and with a child) and still in the jewelry business with Jim when Lisa reappears, engaged in an equally questionable if older profession. Bobby's helplessly honest narration is a sublime counterpoint to the crooked doings he's complicit in. Reading this is like watching one man's American dream turn into a soul-sucking nightmare. (May)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
How to Sell, a teardown of the jewelry industry and a reflection on deception, is "a lesson in double dealing -- in business and in romance," said O. Certainly, the novel contains amoral -- though surprisingly insightful -- characters on uncertain paths to a vaguely defined "success." The New York Times Book Review asked whether, for all its hype, the novel would become "an inevitable classic." The writing, the philosophical inquiries, and the compelling coming-of-age tale, whose scams resonate in this day, are top-notch. "All in all, it's a winning combination," concluded the reviewer -- if not, perhaps, the Great American Novel. But just as The Great Gatsby reflected the corrupted ideals of the Jazz Age, How to Sell may come to represent the early 21st-century American dream -- and how we continue to sell each other and our souls for a tiny, unsatisfying glimpse of it.
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Top customer reviews
HOW TO SELL came to my attention at the recent Brooklyn Book Festival. There, Martin was on a panel that discussed the subject "Money in Fiction". In general, the panel, which was sponsored by Bookforum, was primarily interested in the distorting effects of wealth, not how wealth is acquired. Regardless, Martin was the panelist with the insider's perspective and his book does convey the shameless dynamics of close-at-all-costs salesmanship. Anyone considering a sales job might first read this novel since it reveals what is sometimes necessary to get ahead. It also conveys the values that will rise to the top in most sales organizations and the values that many sales managers will use to judge performance.
The strongest element of HOW TO SELL is the scams. I'm not going back to count. But I'd guess Martin describes more than a dozen schemes and scams that jewelers use to rip off their customers, thereby lifting or creating profits. The scams exist, by the way, because customers are naïve and believe what their jewelers tell them. And Martin, I suppose, is basically saying that a corrupt and unregulated process produces a corrupt result. Anyway, this primer on jewelry scams is definitely eye-opening and, man, after I win Lotto, I'm buying my wife real estate, not jewelry.
The comparison to "Godfellas" is glib but legit. As I remember that movie, Henry Hill and Jimmy Doyle searched out crime and violence from the very beginning. Over time, the scope of their criminal activities increased and the craziness of their violence acquired ever more dire ramifications. But their characters didn't really evolve. (I think the first voice-over is: "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.") Likewise, the characters of Bobby Clark and his older brother Jimmy are set from the git-go. The first sentence of HOW TO SELL, for example, contains Bobby's admission: "...the first time I considered jewelry, I stole my mother's wedding ring. " Apparently, the Clark brothers were born with a knack, and even respect, for sleazy behavior.
HOW TO SELL is a solid four-star read and recommended for those who deny or have forgotten the fact that the animating principles of business are basically selfish. Ayn Rand certainly got this right although this fact leaves behind a trail of pathetic wreckage in Martin's involving novel.
I've been in fine jewelry and for me the portraits had the ring of truth. Perhaps stronger black comedy and better dialogue would have made it a perfect gem.
It was a great read for a very long airplane trip.
PS: Watch out for Dad. Is he really psychic?
The book is a plodding, dull tale of two unevolved guys from a dysfunctional family who use drugs and people interchangeably as they numbly stumble their way through their uninteresting lives.
Clancy's greatest flaw is his belief that he can write realistic human dialogue. Maybe everyone speaks in complete sentences where you hang out professor but that ain't the way normal people talk -- especially when your characters are shady denizens of the druggy, low life subculture you purport to know so much about. Every character in Clancy's novel not only sounds that same, but also speaks in incoherent non-sequiturs that make you wonder if the writer has any clue about subtext.
There's a germ of a good idea for a story in "How to Sell" but Clancy ain't the guy to write it. There I used a slang contraction and I'm not ashamed that I did. Try it sometime, professor, you might actually like it.
Most recent customer reviews
I loved it. Suitably sordid.Read more