‘A poet''s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep’ -Salman Rushdie
I believe ‘writer’ could easily be used interchangeably with poet in Rushdie’s quote. Writers and poets have historically stepped up to the plate during war time or national calamities and after 9/11 is no different. Although it may seem dour to suggest, literature experiences a period of fecundity during times of great collective stress. Case in point: the post 9/11 novel. There are many. Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close , Joseph O’Neil’s Netherland , Don Delillo’s Falling Man , Ian McEwan’s Saturday among many, many others. But, I’m not going to tackle this micro-genre. What I am going to ruminate on is a great ‘Pre-9/11’ novel. Remember Y2K and the paranoia of global computer-system failings? How about the financial bubble bursting? Or a presidential impeachment? I know…Ages ago, but I remember all that as does Teddy Wayne as he illustrates with his novel Kapitoil .
Kapitoil was recommended by a friend who went to school with Wayne; otherwise I hardly think it would have crossed my radar. The gist is a simple fish out of water tale with some weighty abstractions. Karim Issar emigrates from Qatr to the U.S. on a work visa. He works for Schrub Equities, a financial company that deals with futures, mutual funds, and other nebulous financial terms that, to be honest, mean very little to me. Issar develops a program that can predict oil prices, which the company can then ‘hedge’ against to make a profit. All very riveting ideas. Where Wayne excels (and compels) is in the story of his protagonist, Issar. As Issar clumsily assimilates to the jet set stock trader lifestyle, the reader begins to discern an interesting juxtaposition between his new life and his life in Qatr. Phone conversations with his father about bombings hint at the beginnings of a Middle Eastern distrust of American regional economic interests. His boss becoming deeply interested and somewhat manipulative of Issar’s programming skills hints at a looming economic recession. For the reader interested in this window, Wayne does well to illustrate a tiny snapshot of history. What I found compelling is the old fashioned human to human connection story. Issar, clumsily assimilating and finding a romantic interest, is a great subplot to much larger, macro concepts.