What the Post-Crisis Novel Can Teach Us About Finance

By Alex Brokaw

NEW YORK ( Minyanville) --

Money is a horrid thing to follow, but a charming thing to meet.
--Henry James

It's been a long day. The markets crushed you. You crawl home, pour a tall drink and pick up that book you've been meaning to start, a novel your friend who teaches Early English Lit gave you. Something to get your mind off of things.

VIX Index. Oil Futures. Quantitative Analysis. Mortgage-Backed Securities Fraud. Japanese Candle Stick Charting.

Wait, no. This is wrong. You don't want to read about this. This is supposed to be a novel. It's supposed to be an escape from the financial world, right?

In article for the Financial Times last month, author and journalist John Lanchester recalls why there hasn't been much talk about finance in high-grade literary fiction. That is, until now. Two unlikely bedfellows, the novel and Wall Street, have intertwined in the past few years, breeding a crop of literary fiction that might be dubbed the post-crisis novel.

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"There's definitely a flowering of books that are recession novels, not just finance novels. It's an obvious preoccupation now," explains Teddy Wayne, author of the novel Kapitoil (2010), in a recent interview.

Kapitoil is published by Harper Perennial -- a subsidiary of News Corp. ( NWS) -- well known as an industry standard for high-grade fiction. In the novel, Wayne details the tribulations of a Qatari financial wizard lured to New York City by a financial figurehead. (The Wall Street firm his character works for might be modeled on Morgan Stanley ( MS), JPMorganChase ( JPM), or Goldman Sachs ( GS).) Here, adrift in an unfamiliar culture, he develops a computer program that takes advantage of political instability in the global oil markets. Kapitoil is not a financial thriller, the sub-genre famous for fast-paced plots and glossy covers. It's a fully realized novel that weighs the pursuit of passion and profit against real-life questions of morality.

Writing for the Huffington Post, Anis Shivani hails Kapitoil as "immense and unrepeatable." The novel earned Wayne an esteemed fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was an editor's pick at both Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

"What you try and do as a fiction writer is find the unacknowledged side to a character," Wayne explains of creating financial characters in his fiction. "A purely greedy, mercenary stock trader or broker won't make for a compelling character description. It will just be repeating conventional wisdom."