A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism: A Novel by Peter MountfordA Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism: A Novel by Peter Mountford

A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism: A Novel

byPeter Mountford

Paperback | April 12, 2011

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On his first assignment for a rapacious hedge fund, Gabriel embarks to Bolivia at the end of 2005 to ferret out insider information about the plans of the controversial president-elect. If Gabriel succeeds, he will get a bonus that would make him secure for life. Standing in his way are his headstrong mother, herself a survivor of Pinochet's Chile, and Gabriel's new love interest, the president's passionate press liaison. Caught in a growing web of lies and questioning his own role in profiting from an impoverished people, Gabriel sets in motion a terrifying plan that could cost him the love of all those he holds dear. In the tradition of Martin Amis, Joshua Ferris, and Sam Lipsyte-set against the stunning mountainous backdrop of La Paz and interspersed with Bolivia's sad history of stubborn survival-Peter Mountford examines the critical choices a young man makes as his world closes in on him.
While writing about economics in Ecuador for a nonprofit think tank, Peter Mountford noticed his byline read "senior associate" for a hedge fund he'd never heard of. It turned out the think tank was running the hedge fund out of its back office-inspiration for A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism . Mountford has lived in Washington,...
Title:A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 8 × 5.31 × 0.81 inPublished:April 12, 2011Publisher:Houghton Mifflin HarcourtLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0547473354

ISBN - 13:9780547473352

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Read from the Book

1Article IV ReportFriday, November 25, 2005 IT BEGAN WITH a single reedy voice calling out an incomprehensiblerefrain, some nasally phrase that would repeat all morning. Gabrielopened his eyes. The day’s first light glowed pale at the edge of the curtains.He’d requested an eighth-floor room hoping to avoid this. Heclosed his eyes again, optimistically. Another voice — this one burpy,froggish — joined in; this phrase was shorter. What could they be sellingat that hour? A third voice entered and they were a chorus singingsome garbled tune, a puzzle of phrases intoned with the distinctive eagernessof street vendors across the world. Car horns added a percussivelayer. A policeman blew a whistle, hoping to introduce order, butall he added was a shrill note. Still, the sound didn’t truly find its centeruntil the buses and micros joined in, shoving their way down the narrowroads. Gabriel knew that the noise had reached its peak register then:a din that would blast for sixteen hours. A symphony forever tuning upbefore its concert — it brayed him awake, brayed him to sleep. It waspure dissonance, but as he lay there he found that the anticipation offuture harmony was palpable. Gabriel walked through to the bathroom, flipped on the light, andobserved himself, hair askew, eyes puffy with sleep. Puberty had hithim young, at ten, but full-blown manhood seemed to be still in theoffing. In college, he’d tried to grow an I-don’t-care-about-all-that-shitbeard, but he’d ended up looking weird, and the truth — that he cared alot — became obvious because he wouldn’t stop talking about the beard,so he had to give up and shave it off. Five years later, he was just aswillowy, but he’d cut away the profusion of black hair and was shavingregularly. He brushed his teeth with bottled water and showered, making surenot to let any of the water into his mouth. Typhoid, amoebas, hepatitis,and dozens of other dangerous microbes swam in those pipes. The tapwater even smelled different: chalky, it seemed. The water was so hardit swept the soap off his skin before he could lather up. Back in his bedroom with a teeny white towel wrapped around hiswaist, he slid open the curtains to see the crisp alpine light streamingdown on the chaos below. The protests usually ended by lunchtime. If there was a march, itfinished in Plaza Murillo, in front of the presidential palace. It had beenthis way since he arrived. The police stashed anti-riot gear in a dozenministerial buildings on or near the plaza. Tear gas drifted through LaPaz’s narrow streets like morning mist. When the gas seeped into Gabriel’sroom at Hotel Gloria, it felt like a cloud of cayenne had beenblown into his face. The first time this happened, he found that it tookhours to dissipate, so when it happened again today, he abandoned hisroom. He took his laptop and went across the street to the Lookout, thetop-floor restaurant at Hotel Presidente, where he could write in peacewhile his room aired out. No sooner had he sat down at the bar of the Lookout and openedhis laptop than the bartender, Severo, told him that he’d already madeenough pisco sours to get all the journalists in La Paz drunk. Gabrielsmiled obligingly. It was ten in the morning and a few journalists werealready gathering in the booths, drinking pisco sours. This was the endof the so-called Bolivian Gas War, and the fact that the war had beenlittle more than a protracted series of protests did nothing to diminishthe atmosphere of doomsday hedonism among the foreign press.Severo had latched on to Gabriel, who was set apart from the othersby his youth, his ambiguous ethnicity, his fluency in Spanish, and, perhaps,the fact that he was Fiona’s boy toy. He and Fiona had first met a week before, when they both arrivedon that day’s American Airlines flight from Miami. They had stood nextto each other in line at the taxi stand, misty breath vanishing in gusts.She introduced herself and suggested that they share a taxi if he washeaded downtown as well. They sat in the back seat of a cramped yellowcar, which zipped down the winding road to La Paz, its engineemitting an ominous burning odor the whole way. Later that day, Fiona had gone behind the bar at the Lookout toshow Severo how to make the best pisco sour in the world. “It’s all aboutthe quantity of egg white and the ratio of ice to liquid,” she explained,delivering a tray of the cocktails to the table of journalists who were allthere to cover the presidential race. “I slipped a Rohypnol into yours,”she said to Gabriel and winked, and maybe it was just his first two piscosours, but for a second he had felt as though he could fall in love withsomeone like her. Fiona’s pisco sours were such a hit with the journalists that apparentlySevero was now making them by the bucketful before his shift. Gabriel wrote for fifteen minutes at the bar before Severo said,“Where is your girl?” “Fiona?” How generous of him to call Fiona a girl. Generous too, if ina different way, to imply that she was Gabriel’s. “I’m going to meet hersoon.” Severo nodded. “Is she a good journalist?” Gabriel said that she was great. He said that she seemed to get interviewswith whomever she wanted. Then he qualified this by explainingthat she worked for the Wall Street Journal. “Your newspaper is not so big?” Gabriel held up a pinkie finger to indicate the size, and Severolaughed. “Actually,” Gabriel said, “I don’t even have a newspaper. I amfreelance.” He didn’t know the Spanish word for freelance so he just saidit in English. Severo nodded, his eyebrows scrunched, and Gabriel could see thathe didn’t understand. It didn’t matter to Severo. He just wanted to knowwhether he should be impressed. He just needed to know how to react.Gabriel said, “Not that many people read what I write, but the oneswho do are big international investors.” Severo seemed to appreciate that. “What do you say about us?” Gabriel shrugged. “I try to be honest.” “Don’t you think that things will get better?” Severo said. “I do.” Gabriel grimaced. “I hope so.” And Severo, who had seemed so blasé a few minutes before, so carefree,stared at Gabriel, a plastic jar of pisco sour in his hand, and said,“Please don’t write anything bad about us.” It was the most heartfeltthing Gabriel had heard all week. “I won’t,” Gabriel assured him. He made plenty of eye contact, to indicatehis sincerity. But as it happened, he was mid-draft in a brief stating that the Boliviangovernment’s reluctance to publish their latest Article IV reportonly reinforced his doubts about their future. The Article IV report was a candid — and therefore highly classi-fied — analysis of a country’s economy and problems, including a criticalassessment of its policies, written by the International MonetaryFund. Gabriel had been trying to get his hands on a copy since he’d arrived.Most countries published their Article IV reports, even if thesedocuments gave grim appraisals of the future. They published the reportsostensibly in the interest of full disclosure but really to assure investorsthey had nothing to hide. So the fact that Bolivia was so reluctantto publish its latest A-IV indicated, Gabriel wrote, “that this isprobably among the most dour A-IVs in the country’s history.” To ensure that the report would not be leaked, the Bolivian authoritieshad asked that the IMF print only a handful of specially numberedcopies and carefully restrict who saw them. Within Bolivia, PresidentRodríguez had a copy, as did the head of the central bank, the financeminister, and the vice president. President Rodríguez’s unpopularity wassuch that he was no longer even talking to the press, so Gabriel didn’tbother trying to contact him about the A-IV. The others wouldn’t returnhis calls. A fifth copy of the report was in the hands of the IMF’sresident representative, Grayson McMillan, who had agreed to meetGabriel that afternoon. The snag was that Grayson didn’t have the authorityto give out the report. There was only one other copy that Gabrielknew of, and that was Fiona’s. She had admitted she had it theother night, in a rare postcoital moment of tenderness. “The vice presidentgave it to me,” she’d said. “Did he really?” “Yes, he really did. But I can’t quote from it.” “Oh, that’s too bad.” Gabriel didn’t bother asking her if she’d let him see it. She was theonly journalist with a copy and she’d be crazy to endanger her exclusivityby showing it to anyone, whether or not she was sleeping with him. What Fiona did not know, and had no way of knowing, was that despitewhat he’d been telling everyone, Gabriel was not actually a freelancewriter. He was not a journalist at all, in fact. Not anymore. For thelast month, Gabriel had been working as a political analyst for the CallowayGroup, a hedge fund. Once he’d finished the first five pages of his report, Gabriel went toan empty side of the restaurant, got out his cell phone, read the financeminister’s number, and took a deep breath. He attempted to assemble hisideas. He had not yet grown accustomed to interviewing these genuinelypowerful people. For the past four years, when he’d been writingfor the online financial paper Investors Business International, he’d felt like ahack. Now, at the Calloway Group, it was worse: he was expected to weaselsensitive information from these people. And the stakes were dizzyinglyhigh. There could be tens of millions of dollars on the line. His boss,Priya, would not tell him exactly how much or where it was going. In theory, his job at Calloway wasn’t so unlike his job at InvestorsBusiness International, except that what he wrote now wouldn’t be published.Quite the reverse; what he wrote now was confidential. The lesstheir competitors knew, the better. Gabriel’s cover, such as it was, wasthat he was a freelance writer hoping to do a long piece on the Bolivianelection for a magazine — it was precisely the kind of assignment he’dhave been given by IBI a few months before. He took another deep breath, looked out the window. La Paz was along and narrow city. It filled a craggy ravine on the eastern outskirts ofthe altiplano, or high plain: thirteen thousand feet high in this case. Thesteep faces of the canyon around the city were covered with slums. Theslums were colored red by the cheap bricks of mountain mud the inhabitantsused to build their shacks. Even farther up, toward the ridge, thehills were studded with clusters of shantytowns, home to only the mostintrepid of the city’s poor. The terrain was unforgiving, desolate, rocky;it looked primitive. It looked Afghani; it looked like al-Qaeda territory. Gabriel dialed the number, pressed Send. The phone rang once.A brief silence. It rang a second time. Someone answered. “¿Aló?” thevoice said. A man’s voice. “Hello, I am a friend of Fiona Musgrave,” Gabriel said in Spanish.He spoke too fast, intending to make it clear he was fluent, becausesometimes he had a slight hint of a gringo’s accent. “I was hoping to talkto you about the Article IV report.” “Fiona gave you this number?” the man responded. “She did.” “You’re a journalist?” “I’m a freelance writer,” he said, leaving the word freelance in Englishagain. He added a pause. “I need to speak off the record.” “What kind of journalist wants to speak off the record?” This was the problem. Presenting himself as a freelance writer didnot, it turned out, engender much enthusiasm with interviewees. Gabrielwanted to believe that if he told people for whom he really worked,they’d be impressed. He wanted to think that they’d give him the samestar treatment they gave Fiona. But he couldn’t risk it getting out thatthe Calloway Group was interested in Bolivia. He was lucky to have thejob — more than lucky, in fact — and they wouldn’t need much of anexcuse to fire him. He hadn’t even told his mother about the job. Still,he needed to entice the minister to speak somehow, so he went forwardwith innuendo. “Have you heard of the Calloway Group?” He said theCalloway Group in English, in an American accent. “The hedge fund?” The finance minister was still in Spanish. “Youwork for them?” Gabriel didn’t answer the question. This was the plan, to imply thathe worked for them but stop short of stating the fact directly. It was importantthat the minister know that the stakes for Bolivia were real; untilnow, few hedge funds had ventured near countries as backward andunstable as Bolivia. But it was also important that the minister see thatthe Calloway Group wanted to be discreet about their interest. “I’m justasking to take a look at the Article Four report,” he said. “It’d be completelyoff the record. It’s all just deep background for a long piece I’mresearching.” The minister let out a weary sigh. “Does Fiona know whom youwork for?” “Fiona knows that I am a consultant.” Gabriel paused again, in casethe insinuation wasn’t clear. “If you have another opinion, that’s yourbusiness.” Gabriel wondered if this was going well. It was hard to tell. “Why would I share a classified document with a hedge fund thathas a reputation for vampirism?” “Excuse me?” Gabriel said. “I think you’ve misunderstood me.” “I was with Morgan Stanley in 2001, and I remember Calloway.They’d nudge a price until it triggered a short spike. They’d milk thespike on the upside, and back down again on the fall to equilibrium.They were like feral animals during the Argentina crisis: went from ahundred percent long to a hundred percent short in seconds on a rumorthat they themselves probably started. They may have done well, butwe all found the strategy sleazy. There was no vision, no philosophy,except to play as fast and dirty as possible.”  “If they were interested in Bolivian industry, it’d be a very differentthing,” Gabriel said. “Right. They’d be looking at multinationals with significant exposureto Bolivian commodities, gas, I suppose, in the face of this unusualelection?” Gabriel hesitated. The purpose of his cover was now clear to him.Based solely on his hint that he worked for Calloway, the minister hadtriangulated a very accurate reading of Calloway’s investment strategyin Bolivia. With a tiny intimation, Gabriel had exposed everything Priyahad wanted to keep under wraps. “I’m not going to speculate on whatthey would do here.” “Right, right.” The minister cleared his throat. “I’m surprised theysent you. Are you sure you didn’t go to the wrong country? Brazil is alittle to the right.” “You don’t want to show me the Article Four, I take it.” “You are at the bottom of the list of people I would show that reportto.” His voice was hoarse. He sounded wrecked. He sounded exhausted. Eager to backpedal, Gabriel said, “I’m just a writer looking for material.” “And I’m Ronald McDonald. But you don’t need to worry. I won’ttell anyone.” Gabriel felt a great relief hearing that. The minister said, “I don’t want to repel you people any more thanI want to throw the door open to you. It’s hard for me to imagine, but Ido hope that people like your boss will eventually see the wealth availablehere to foreign investors. It is a very rich country if you are preparedto commit for the long term.” His voice had been lifting there atthe end, and he caught himself, shut it down. He sighed. He must haveknown he was talking to the wrong person. “I understand,” Gabriel said. He didn’t know what to say. “Anything else?” the minister said. “No. Thank you for your time,” he said. Gabriel could hear that theminister was in traffic. Riding in a limousine through the squalor, probably.It had to be hard. “Fine. Don’t call this number again.” The minister hung up. Fiona answered the door in her white terry-cloth bathrobe, BlackBerryat her ear. She winked hello and slammed the door behind him. Gabrielsat down on the sofa, kicked his feet up on the coffee table. Fionashimmied out of the robe and flung it onto the bed. She peeked aroundthe curtain at the city. “I know,” she said into the phone, “that’s what Iwas saying, but we can always pad it if we’re still short.” Fiona had beenthe South America correspondent for the Journal since Gabriel was afreshman at Claremont High. And she was proud, he supposed, of herbody — rightfully so. He took his laptop out of its bag and checked his e-mail. Nothing. Itwas Friday, and he was supposed to turn in his report tomorrow. Whenshe finished her conversation, Fiona chucked her BlackBerry onto thesofa. “Tell me, Gabriel, why are you still wearing clothes?” “I’ve been gassed out of my hotel again,” he said, not looking upfrom the screen. She lit a cigarette and flopped on the sofa beside him. “That’s the advantageof a five-star hotel: airtight windows.” She smiled. It was a joke.Sort of. Hotel Presidente boasted that it was the highest five-star hotelin the world, and though its elevation wasn’t in dispute, the five-star statusseemed, to the foreign press who stayed there, a hilarious exampleof Bolivian pride in the face of meager circumstances. Hotel Gloria, across the street, had a three-star rating but cost halfas much, without much discernible difference in quality. Callowaywould have paid for whatever hotel Gabriel wanted, but Hotel Gloriawas modest enough to help him maintain his cover. So went his thinking.The décor of both the Gloria and the Presidente must have seemedterribly modern when they were decorated in the 1970s — all pumpkinshag carpets, cucumber walls, clunky chandeliers, and lots of tawnyglass. It was a look that would have read hip and ironic in New York,and Gabriel was probably the only foreigner who found its sincerityin Bolivia refreshing. Unlike the others, he believed that the managementof the hotels knew perfectly well how outmoded their décor was.It wasn’t any funnier than the fact that their roads were falling apart. Itjust made an easier target. “What do you have planned for the day?” Fiona asked. Little puffs ofsmoke staggered out of her mouth as she spoke. “I’m meeting the IMF’s resident representative at three.” “Grayson! I’m meeting him at one.” She put her cigarette back in theashtray. She had ordered scrambled eggs for breakfast, and the platesat, untouched, on the coffee table. “I’m having lunch with him. Youbetter not scoop me!” She flashed a lupine grin, and he understood thatit had been a joke: he could never scoop her. Not that it mattered, really.“Well, Gabriel,” she said, “I’ve got forty-five minutes before I have to gomeet him, so I suggest you undress.” “I was just wondering if you have the vice president’s number,” hesaid. “No luck with the finance minister?” “No luck with him.” “Well, I can’t give out the vice president’s number.” He nodded, started typing. She made a little show of checking herwatch. “Look,” she said, “there are protests in Sopocachi today, and traffic will be awful, so if we’re not going to fuck right now, I should getdressed.” He looked up at her, blankly as possible, and, feigning befuddlement,said, “Right, um . . . I just — ” He gestured vaguely toward the screen. She smiled, barely. Stubbed out her cigarette. “Ouch,” she said. “No, no, it’s not — ” he began, but he didn’t finish because she wavedhim off. It was a funny trick, a special talent of hers, to come across simultaneouslyas mocking and genuinely hurt. Gabriel believed that Fiona’s caustic streak was a big part of why shewas still single; that, and the bizarre nudity. In the six days since they’dshared a taxi from the airport to downtown La Paz, she had been na11ked at least half the time he saw her. She wrote dispatches naked, ateroom service naked, watched television and conducted conference callsnaked. She had a hearty appetite for sex and fucked vigorously, as if itwere an aerobic routine and he were a piece of equipment in her gym.At climax her volt-blue eyes squinted and her nostrils flared. When shesmoked afterward, he could sometimes see her heart flexing in her ribcage. With Fiona, he was often aware that she was a living being, thather body was a strange thing, a sack full of organs and bones and fluids,everything in shades of pink and ivory and aubergine. She lit a new cigarette, stood up, and went over to her suitcase,which was splayed on the floor. “What should I wear to lunch?” shesaid. “I’ve heard Grayson’s a dreamboat.” “Buck-naked seems to work pretty well for you,” Gabriel said.“Maybe you should show up in the buff?” Then, unable to resist, headded, “It’d simplify the exchange.” She didn’t bother answering. She picked up a gray skirt and a pair ofvintage oxblood heels, sat on the edge of the bed, and started to dress,her cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth, smoke rising intoher eyes. He put his computer away and stood up. “You leaving?” she said from the side of her mouth, squinting at himthrough the smoke. She pulled on the skirt, zipped it at the side. Shewas not going to wear underwear, apparently. “Yeah, I’ll see you after.” “Do me a favor: bring your libido.”

Editorial Reviews

The Bolivian setting is colorful and engaging, as are the financial maneuverings."- Publishers Weekly "[T]he novel holds the reader's interest to the end? [Mountford's] affectionate portrayal of Bolivia is probably the book's strongest point."- Library Journal "This is a solid read that is both adventurous and thought-provoking on the themes of racial identity, South Americans, politics, and wealth."- Booklist ' A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism is, quite simply, one of the most compelling and thought-provoking novels I've read in years. It's extraordinarily vivid, populated by characters whose fates I cared about desperately, beautifully written, timely beyond measure, but above all it conveys - with impressive precision and nuance-how we are vectors on the grid of global capital; how difficult it is to even attempt to be an authentic, let alone admirable, human being when we are, first and last, cash flow.'- David Shields, author of Reality Hunger: A Manifesto " A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism is a terrific debut novel-smart, moving, beautifully written. Peter Mountford's parable of the voracious global economy reminded me of Graham Greene's The Quiet American in its clear-eyed depiction of the realpolitik of our age."- Jess Walters, author of The Financial Lives of the Poets " A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism is a brilliant debut novel, one that is generous in giving readers an original cast of vividly-drawn and unforgettable characters, learned in its knowledge of the interwoven worlds of finance and politics, sexy, and thoroughly cosmopolitan. Peter Mountford is easily one of the most gifted and skillful young writers, already accomplished, I have had the pleasure of reading in many years."- Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passage and Dreamer 'In his debut novel, A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism, Peter Mountford has something important to say about the ambiguous moral ground where the personal meets the political. He has experience and sophistication beyond his years and is well-positioned to mine this vein. This novel is worth your time and attention.'- David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars "Peter Mountford, in his amazing debut as a novelist, has updated the gilded myth of Wall Street swashbucklers in expensive suits and spun it out into the world in a hellbent tale, dramatizing the contorted rationalizations practiced by the financial elite to justify their self-delusion. Forget fame, respect, making the world a better place. Transcend the craving for money by acquiring a truckload of it. Buddha as a hedge fund operator, reallocating soullessness throughout the system."- Bob Shacochis, author of Swimming in the Volcano and The Next New World "Peter Mountford's A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism is a sharp, funny and terrifying novel- in a world so much like our own (part of the terror: it may, in fact, be our world), Gabriel's actions and the reactions of those around him caused me to wonder, again and again: how do I wish to live in this world, and what latitude might I find?"- Peter Rock, author of My Abandonment "