I used to read Stanley Bing’s column in Fortune magazine in 1996-1997, back when I was making $15,000 to $20,000 a year but was thinking big. It’s also before Fortune magazine and everyone in the Time stable started unscrupulously sending out magazine subscription forms disguised as invoices or shipping Sports Illustrated calendars, payment due, to anyone who entered their contests. So while my appreciation for all things Time-Warner fell to the disdain level, my fondness for Stanley Bing did not.
So when I saw this ex-library hardback at the St. Charles Book Fair, I said what the heck, and I picked it up for two dollars. It’s a satirical, slightly humorous look at life in the higher echelons of a multinational conglomorate. Lloyd, an executive vice president or some such, is a man with a title but no department who becomes the special envoy between the corporation and its parent as it begins to trim headcount in preparation for an acquisition. In addition to prose, the application includes relevant slide show presentations and graphs to illustrate Lloyd’s lifestyle relative to what it was when he began his career and how it was when he began the year captured in the book. In between business deals, navigating the literally and figuratively murderous world of scheming underlings and scheming overlords, Lloyd must deal with the temptations of a fiery vice president who’s available to a man of his obvious charisma.
Still, all temptations of the flesh and the power aside, the main character is a bit of a cipher; other characters explain how he fills a room, but that doesn’t come off of the page nor out of the mind of the character. Perhaps that’s intentional from Bing, a kind of representation of how even the most charismatic can fill out their interior lives with doubts. As I’m not particularly charismatic, you could easily convince me this is the interior life of more affable people, and I’ll let Bing get away with it. Because in spite of his self-doubts and cloddish behavior, Lloyd gets a redemption of sorts, unlike Brandon Sladder (from The Columnist by Jeffrey Frank, reviewed here). So the good will in the overall story of the book and its non-American Beauty ending, coupled with the palatable satire, carried me along through the book.
It was an entertaining book, but it might have run a couple or fifty pages too long. Sometime in the turn beyond the 200 page mark, I started wondering where it was going, and then it wrapped up somewhat abruptly, but perhaps that’s appropriate given the semi-absurdity of its ending. It’s an enjoyable book, and I recommend it as not only humorous story, which it is, but also as an inspiration for some people ascending the corporate ladders. Sure, it’s satire, but it’s also human in that it shows that people in power, in the apex of their fields, still suffer from the existential angst when they wonder if that’s all there is. I can appreciate that, and it’s comforting.