Friday, May 29, 2009

How to Sell by Clancy Martin

How to Sell is billed as a dark comedy type of book, and, yes, it is definitely dark, but I am not sure how funny it actually was. Bobby Clark is 16 years old and already on his way to a life of crime when he is expelled from school after stealing a case of class rings. Out of options, he decides to head south from his native Canada, and hook up with his older brother, Jim, who is working in the jewelry business in Texas.

Upon his arrival, Bobby is immediately hired on at the jewelry store where Jim is one of the top salesmen. He also meets Lisa, Jim's girlfriend, with whom he shortly begins a relationship as well. Not only does Bobby receive quite the education into the corrupt world of jewelry sales, he also picks up Jim's cocaine and Lisa's speed habits. Eventually, the store owner is arrested for his business habits, Lisa finds herself in some big mysterious trouble and drops out of both Jim's and Bobby's life. The story picks up several years later.

Bobby is now married with a daughter, yet he maintains a relationship with "the Polack," as she prefers to be called, a saleswoman at their shop. He and Jim have opened up their own jewelry shop, utilizing the same unethical tactics as their previous employers. One night, feeling restless, Bobby calls an escort whose number he received from Jim. When he reaches her, she informs him that she is out of the business, but has a friend who might be interested. Bobby is astonished to see that this friend is in fact Lisa. Despite the fact that she is currently working as a prostitute and has a very involved boyfriend, Bobby hopes to pick up where they left off years ago, with disastrous results.

I suppose one might consider Jim and Bobby's father a source of comic relief, if he also wasn't such a tragic figure. Long divorced from the boys' mother, he is a charming philanderer who floats from community to community starting churches and convincing people that he consults with "astral beings" and a woman named "Priscilla" who lives on a "parallel plane," whose guidance he takes quite seriously.

How to Sell is a quick read and well-written. The characters are rather shallow, but this adds to the overall story of their greed as a way of life. The American dream is alive and well in this story, where the characters sell not only jewelry, but themselves and each other. It is a bleak look at life in the fast lane, and one that will likely stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

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