Date of Award
Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
Ruth Ellen Kocher
Stephen Graham Jones
ORIGINAL QUERY: Before the recent financial crisis, many hedge funds felt bold enough to do the unthinkable: hire people with English degrees. As one such hire, I became a first-hand witness to a lavish lifestyle that I didn't think existed outside of Tom Wolfe novels. Do financiers really spend $600 on a pair of socks? Would they really fire an assistant for placing a pen in the wrong spot on their desk? The answer is yes, all this ... and much more. I am seeking representation for my comic literary novel, Seeking Brilliant Individuals (66,000 words). It is the story of a young Ivy League graduate who comes to New York City with two goals: to write a great book and to have sex with beautiful women. With the confidence typical of his generation, he's convinced that he'll easily accomplish both ... but a few months later he's celibate, penniless, and on the brink of starvation. Salvation comes in the form of a mysterious job offer from one of the world's largest hedge funds. The money is too good to refuse, and even young Bohemians need to pay the rent. He expects to join an elite fraternity of brilliant analysts solving cutting-edge problems and trading quips over frothy mugs of beer after work. But instead he finds himself employed as a glorified personal assistant, navigating a series of meaningless and seemingly impossible tasks. It seems, in fact, that his job consists primarily of a doomed quest to satisfy an eccentric billionaire's demands for perfect order in every aspect of his life. If the soap isn't set at a ninety degree angle on the bathroom sink, his job is in danger. Moving between the worlds of Manhattan's Bohemian twenty-somethings and the lavish lifestyle of one of its wealthiest families, the novel hinges on a series of comic collisions between fantasy and reality. The eccentric billionaire's fantasy of order and control is constantly undermined by the blunders of his staff ... and eventually by the crash of the market itself. The narrator's dreams of great prose and greater sex prove hard to fulfill, and his acquisition of sudden wealth prompts a whole new set of fantasies that don't quite work out. The novel presents a uniquely modern spin on the "sentimental education" genre, in which despite ample opportunities for education, our young protagonist doesn't end up learning much at all. SYNOPSIS: Seeking Brilliant Individuals begins with the arrival of a young Ivy League graduate to New York City. He has two goals: to write a great book and to have sex with beautiful women. But he quickly realizes that to achieve either goal he'll first need to do something more prosaic: get a job. He stumbles on a hedge fund's classified ad that uses the catchphrase "Seeking Brilliant Individuals." Unable to resist thinking of himself as brilliant, he applies for and wins the job after enduring a bizarre and exhausting series of interviews in which, somewhat oddly, financial matters are never mentioned. At the firm of Hamilton & Company, he stumbles into one of corporate America's best kept secrets: an elite "consulting" team of Ivy League graduates paid vast sums of money to cater to the extravagant whims of an eccentric billionaire. PhDs design intricate systems to ensure that Mr. Hamilton receives a designated number of organic baby carrots at a certain time each morning. And that's not even the worst of it. The narrator soon finds that despite Mr. Hamilton's mania for perfect control, he and the other consultants are perpetually failing to provide the absolute order Hamilton expects. After botching several key projects, the narrator seems on the verge of losing the job. Successfully completing a shady assignment involving the acquisition of an already occupied apartment is his last hope if he wants to remain employed. Just as Hamilton makes a fetish of order, the narrator begins to romanticize disorder and chaos. He uses his newfound wealth to fuel a spree of drinking and whoring, convinced that these are essential activities that a young artist must experience. His quest for experience also leads to a doomed courtship of a sullen young bartender he decides is the embodiment of female perfection. Hamilton's impossible quest for perfect order and control is ultimately undermined by the crash of global financial markets, while the narrator's quixotic pursuit of chaotic experience fails to yield the artistic epiphanies he had expected. The novel offers a timely critique of excess in the financial world, an acute sociological portrait of Manhattan's bohemian twenty-somethings, and insights into the unexpected links between these two realms. Frustrating the conventions of the sentimental education genre, the story ends with the narrator in exactly the same predicament that began the novel; he's broke, aimless, and dreaming of the future.
Romeo, Nicholas Edward, "Seeking Brilliant Individuals" (2012). English Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 27.