Individualist. Debut novelist Norb Vonnegut seems to have followed traditional advice: write about what you know. In Top Producer, Vonnegut writes about Wall Street, where he has worked for a variety of financial firms. Given the wealth of material in light of the current financial crisis, Vonnegut has selected the Bernie Madoff scandal as the prime source for the action of this novel. The protagonist, Grove O’Rourke, is a top producing stockbroker handles wealthy client accounts for the fictional firm Sachs, Kidder, and Carnegie (SKC). Having grown up in Charleston, South Carolina, Grove has a gentility that can seem out of place in New York. Grove doesn’t fit the stockbroker stereotype: he isn’t pushy; he takes a very conservative approach with clients; and he actually seems to do what clients want. He gets some of his best investment ideas by taking positions opposite those recommended by the top SKC economist. He doesn’t spend his own wealth ostentatiously, stays fit through regular cycling, and seems to be nice to everyone. One of the strengths of Top Producer is the strong character Vonnegut has created in the independent and successful Grove O’Rourke. The Madoff character in the novel is Grove’s best friend Charlie Kelemen, who manages a fund of funds and easily spends gobs of money on an opulent lifestyle as well as philanthropy. The thrilling twenty pages that open Top Producer got my heart beating fast, especially when Charlie is brutally murdered. Vonnegut’s debut status and inexperience as a novelist comes out in the major weakness in the novel: a tedious exposition that extends for over 250 pages. One through that, the action accelerates for thirty or so pages, and then the novel gets wrapped up cleanly. If you’re willing to take a chance on a debut novelist, there’s a lot to like on the pages of Top Producer, especially if you have the patience to plow through a lot of exposition with minimal action. Readers who like character-based stories are likely to find Grove O’Rourke as a likeable individual, one whom we are willing to cheer and support.
Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)