Auchincloss, Louis. Diary of a Yuppie.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986.

Robert Service is a thirty-two-year-old New York attorney, a specialist in corporate takeovers, who, after eight years as an associate in his large firm, has been promised a partnership at the beginning of the year — but does he really want it? Service analyzes absolutely everything around him and a close analysis of the leadership of his firm leads him to conclude that it’s a slowly sinking ship.

Naturally, he identifies a few like-thinking colleagues and bolts to form his own firm, taking some of the most important clients with him. He doesn’t see it as a betrayal of his paternalist mentor, either, but as simply a logical move. “Why do people persist in the illusion that their caring creates some kind of duty of reciprocation, or even respect, in the hearts of those they care for?” He’s an up-and-comer who gleefully rifles the trash of takeover targets in search of leverage and advantage, even though his wife, a classic liberal do-gooder, hates this aspect of his work. He doesn’t understand why she should complain. He takes pride in hewing to the legal limits, and ethics has nothing to do with it. Besides, she’s always happy to spend the money he earns. And when she finally leaves him, he has the opportunity to find a lady friend who will give him entré into the more rarified circles of New York society. But he insists he still loves her.

Service also keeps a highly private journal – indeed, this book — into which he pours all his thoughts and analyses and in which he says all the things he can’t say in public. And he’s always honest with himself — which aren’t necessarily the things his wife and friends need to hear. He was an English major at Columbia (the best way to prepare for a law degree, he decided) and his writing is strewn with literary references. This gives the author the opportunity to draw his own parallels between the narcissistic Service and certain characters in the novels he reads.

It’s hard to tell quite what Auchincloss’s intention is here. By modern standards, Service isn’t really that terrible. He does, in fact, obey the law even while he takes full advantage of its weak points. That puts him ahead of many real-world takeover types. Nor does his wife really have an ethical leg to stand on. You get the sense that the author is slyly daring you to choose sides. And he does it so very well.

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Published in: on 19 June 2016 at 1:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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