When Joe Gallagher goes to work for an energy trading company in Boston , he soon finds that pursuit of his ambition to strike it rich in the markets will plunge him into a whirlwind, literally. As the firm's traders jockey to make bets on the effects of an upcoming hurricane, Gallagher must choose between following the careful dictates his old school veteran mentor, Andrews... Or become a disciple of The Ghost, a newly-hired boss whose maverick trading methods push the envelope, a binary trader’s code of supreme wealth or complete ruin... A voyeuristic tour through the fascinating subculture of high-powered energy traders, Short introduces us to the larger-than-life men and women who run our markets— people who inhabit a world of intense stress, unbelievable gluttony, and the consequences of making and losing tens of millions of dollars in a single day.
I’d have done lot better with Cortright McMeel’s Short if the publishers had put the glossary and explanatory notes in the front instead of the back. Maybe it’s my bad, but I didn’t even know they were there till I’d finished, and it didn’t occur to me to check. Instead, I spent a lot of time baffled and angry over passages like this:
The strategy to bankrupt Andrews’s Cinergy hub position would be two-pronged.
One, the Ghost would enlist brokers, inform them of Andrews’s position, which they would in turn share with Andrews’s counterparts at competing firms in the Cinergy market. These traders would then short sell the market against Andrews’s long position. As for the brokers, they would back the Ghost’s play over Andrews’s. The Ghost did more size, which meant more commissions, meaning the Ghost paid them, and the repeating monkeys...would do his bidding.
You can get the broad outlines of a plot buried under the jargon, but the details are obscure and the terminology throws a scrim between the uninitiated reader and the action.
But behind the argot (and not even behind said argot if you check the glossary), Short is one hell of a novel. Dialogue is original, efficient, gritty,funny. Elmore Leonard quality. The characters are commodity traders, and as you might expect in a world where financial life-and-death risks are the daily bread, you have a collection of individuals who do not live by rules of 9-to-5 suburban security. They are drunks, high-fliers, score-chasers (financial and sexual) who live life on the random and precarious edge 24-7. I mean who would try to make put food and whisky on the table by betting the farm on such matters as whether Katrina will hit land east or west of Florida?
As you might expect, when the stakes are this high, skullduggery is rife, and McMeel puts us in the middle of an evil and intricate plot that’s fascinating, and the suspense builds. As the central action plays out, a number of engrossing subplots follow the personal lives of the main characters outside the trading floor. None of them is a model citizen, and if I hadn’t recently read a book called The Monster (See Writer Working, Dec. 3, 2010) about the abuses inside the mortgage-swindle market, I would have thought it unrealistic to build a novel around an industry with no good guys. But given the real-life scenario of The Monster and the sleazeballs involved in that situation, it’s easy to believe the greed and exploitation mentality of Short, which depicts the corruption of an entire subculture. Who else would be willing to play a game like this for long?
It’s only my speculation that the world of Short is meant to stand to some extent for the entire transitory, materialistic, ripoff nature of modern American culture, but whether McMeel means it that way or not, The parallel seems clear to me. The one significant female character in the book is an artist, who spends a lot of effort trying to break into and out of the commercial world of her world. She finally figures out that she can’t be an artist married to a trader, at least not this one, but she’s still after the world of the chic gallery, so whether she breaks free in the end is open to question. It’s a Hobbesian world McMeel has given us, and looking over the national landscape at this point, I cannot say it’s not so all over. I hope I will live long enough to where I can say, this is only a dark corner of a clean house. Right now, these guys own not only the house, but the whole neighborhood. You can bet the farm on that.
In this his first novel, Cortright McMeel supplies readers with a cavalcade of the capitalist grotesque. He re-creates the fast-paced, gluttonous world of energy brokers and traders—how they plan to make riches with swaps, puts and other derivatives that add nothing to the productivity of the economy; how they hide trades in multiple accounts; how they wine and dine themselves and clients in upper-crust hedonist venues just to maintain thread-strong relationships; how they seek revenge and jeopardize their careers and their company in the process. The characters are the epitome of male hubris in an uber-competitive environment. They are as unapologetic as market is unforgiving.
The opening chapters are tough to follow with the sparse and harsh dialogue and thin characterization. However, the technical language quickly becomes familiar and the characters gain depth. The language is so foul that mothers would hesitate to kiss the lips of their sons. In fact, when a new boss cleans house and a trader collapses of with a heart attack, there is no doubt that he will pass. No one on the trading floor would ever consider mouth-to-mouth.
The characters are unredeemable but laughable nonetheless. Nicknames abound--the Goat, the Ghost, the Texan. Wait until you learn how the Colonel gets his moniker. He’s a piece of work. While seemingly upstanding, he would sleep with your 17 ½ year old daughter and then ask her for her cute girlfriend’s number on his way out the door. At times you might find yourself pulling for these rascals like Milt, with his girth, his Stetson, his ego and his unslakable lust for anything with legs including the Sea Hag, his ex-wife, and his ex-wife’s real estate colleague. In the end, they are all swept toward meaningless lives.
Gallagher seems to be the protagonist. At least he seems to be the most intelligent, most normal and most capable of rising above the maelstrom of the conflict that drives the plot—the rift between going long (metaphor for hope and positive view on life) like his former boss, Andrews, or going short with the new boss, the Ghost, and ignoring risk just to exact personal revenge. Readers will meet other peripheral, yet entertaining, characters like the Eduardo and Celina. The former is a midget, hired by the Colonel while in Vegas, to mix martinis to woo clients and liberate women from their inhibitions. Celina, Gallagher’s wife, is an artist and leaves us with a memorable image when she attempts an acrobatic move at one of her gallery showings only to split her pants; moments later she is laying on a bed, “resigned to the fact that she didn’t care if anyone saw her splayed out over the coats and jackets, the tear in her …”
My only criticism for Cort is the chapter Cape Hatteras. It reads so much like the opening of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, it is impossible not to compare. Thankfully, you dragged Milt overboard to make it your own.
Here’s a note for future readers. As you turn the pages, I highly suggest grabbing a beer—actually buy a whole case of something gritty like National Bohemian or Colt or the Beast, the beers that McMeel swilled as an undergrad at Hopkins while playing rugby and learning to write—and read about the lives of these unsavory traders. Get yourself into a good stupor. Then try to discern the intricacies of the short—selling first at a high price and then buying back later at lower price to make a profit. Savor the fatherly advice given by Milt to his son Aaron, “Never #@#%-ing flinch!” and other great one-liners that end many chapters and give the comedic and incisive edge to the fictive moments: “I told you it was a traffic violation,” and “The problem with that boy,” said Peter the German, shaking his head, “is that he thinks when he dies someone’s going to give him a Viking burial,” and “When a trader dies, nobody cries.”
I was anxiously awaiting this one, Cort being an old friend and a great customer/patron of my bookstore. Not to mention he co-edited the great Murdaland crime fiction anthology. It did not disappoint, although it was hard for me to read with beady eyes burning with envy. A full, groaning stable of unique, developed characters, all engaging in the abstract throat cutting grotesque world of "energy trading", a world Cort knows and describes well, but of which I still have little understanding other than I wouldn't survive a day on their "floors". I would love to see separate novels just dealing with Milt Harkraker and Gallagher. The fluidity of dialogue and familiarity with the modern moneyed places that "real people" go reminds me of early Elmore Leonard before he became machine-like. And of course the mystery man who sets everyones' gears in motion - "The Ghost" - is worthy of Cort's hero Melville.
An indept look at the world of brokers and traders. More of a character study of the occupation, Short exposes the treachery of the modern stock market. Characters are self serving, overtly ambition, and conniving, a veritable Nero of political trading. Honestly, I would not have picked this book as a good read, I mostly enjoy historical fiction. But since the author is a former instuctor of mine and friend, I felt compelled to read it. Skimming over the technical jargon, I found myself thrust into a world of men and women much akin to the political treachery a Machivellian drama. Hemmed in tight with sex, alcohol and greed. Mcmeel is an artist at molding an sculpting characters. Characters that draw you into the story, making the boredom of trading interesting.
This book is a very entertaining and smooth read; I say smooth because most of it is plainly written, and the only times I had to second guess the writing is when we readers are being educated in the business of energy trading - where the prose gets much more technically descriptive. So yes, aside from being a great story it is also informative.
I'd like to remember this book for it's colorful, human characters, and as a lesson about a profession of which, before I read this story, I had little understanding. Worth every second I spent turning the page(s)!
Short is analogous to Liars poker by Michael Lewis about Salomon Brothers trading desk in the 80's. A very easy read; on par with a 6th grade reading level. I was somewhat disappointed at the lack of character development and plot holes towards to the conclusion of the story. I found the actual story rather dense and lacking anything truly interesting. It's not a bad fictionalized account of the energy trading floors and the relationship between the traders/brokers, but nothing more than that.
I enjoyed this book, and enjoyed learning a bit more about energy trading. I think I would have liked the book more if it had focused a bit more on character development/private lives and a bit less on the technicalities of the trading business. I'm glad it included a glossary, but I think the book would have been more successful if McMeel would have translated a bit. Overall, a successful piece of fiction, though.
I really wanted to like this book more, knowing the author, but I just seemed to be lost most of the time about the characters and their motivation. It was, however, very clearly a complex book, and I was glad to have read it.