The Deipnosophist

Where the science of investing becomes an art of living

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Location: Summerlin, Nevada, United States

A private investor for 20+ years, I manage private portfolios and write about investing. You can read my market musings on three different sites: 1) The Deipnosophist, dedicated to teaching the market's processes and mechanics; 2) Investment Poetry, a subscription site dedicated to real time investment recommendations; and 3) Seeking Alpha, a combination of the other two sites with a mix of reprints from this site and all-original content. See you here, there, or the other site!

09 May 2010

INSIDE OUT by Barry Eisler -- A Review

Some authors arrive on the scene fully-formed, other authors build his or her writing career with each new novel; Barry Eisler, interestingly, is a little bit of both. But if ever an author were born to write a specific novel, Barry Eisler is the author and Inside Out is the book. Both it, and he, are that good.

Make no mistake, Inside Out is not just a thriller with a conscience; a topical thriller, to coin a phrase. Arguably a cliché, but "ripped from today's headlines" would be an especially valid comment...

But the establishment is bigger now, more entrenched. The Roosevelt and Truman expansions were ratified by Eisenhower. Kennedy's and Johnson's abuses were ratified by Nixon. Bush Jr's extraconstitutional moves have all been ratified by Obama. It's a ratchet effect. There hasn't been a federal law in the last sixty years that's done other than increase the government's power and influence, and the power and influence of the corporations that manage the government by extension. The leviathan only grows.

"You're saying it can't be beaten?"

Hort laughed. "You can't beat the oligarchy. You can't beat it because the oligarch has already won. The establishment is like a virus that's taken over the organs of the host. Now it acts as a kind of life support system, and if you remove it, the patient it battens on will die... The establishment is a creature whose first priority is ensuring that if you try to remove it, you'll wind up killing the host.
Ahh, you say, what does that section say about anything, topical or otherwise? Read on past the snippet, though, and it begins to make sense: Eisler weaves terrorism throughout the novel's plot -- as do many thriller authors -- but also our nation's response to terrorism, and whether our reactions are right and just, or righteous and over-the-top. Few thriller authors do that, which is understandable. Why move beyond two-dimensional characters that offer nothing more than to move the plot along? Putting characters through their paces never seemed to satisfy Eisler. No, he has shown repeatedly an interest in setting high-bar challenges for himself and his books -- at the peril of losing readers. His novels reflect this growth, as they have morphed from thriller plot with interesting expositional asides, to characters sufficiently three dimensional that they are more than a grab-bag of characteristics, to external events that shape and form the characters, and their reactions to the events that shape them.

Eisler returns to characters from Fault Line: Ben Treven, his boss, "Hort" Horton, et al. (He also hints at a convergence of Ben Treven's and John Rain's story arcs in future novels.)

No Eisler novel is complete, though, without the tradecraft his readers enjoy...
She walked him to the door. He opened it and took a quick glance through the crack -- first right, then sweeping left as he opened it wider. Everything looked all right. The gardener and his truck were gone. Other than that, nothing had changed since he'd arrived.

"My husband used to do that," she said from behind him, her voice cold.

He stepped out onto the stoop and glanced back at her. "Well, I don't want to end up like him."
"Like him" would be presumed dead. Difficult to discern from the snippet, I know, but the brief section quoted above does more than move the plot along, it actually informs Ben Treven's character; it helps explain why he is who he is.

The characters become almost secondary, though, to the anger that increasingly motivates Eisler's plots. While taking care not to be polemic, Eisler reaches for the brass ring -- the Olympian heights of John LeCarre and Graham Greene. The rara avis of auctorial talent in the service of literature that assumes the guise of thriller. With Inside Out, Barry Eisler almost but not quite shares the same lofty heights with those two Olympians. (Had he seized the grand opportunity he set up so brilliantly... Perhaps in his next book, though.)

Despite the near-miss of the brass ring, Inside Out (available 29 June) showcases Eisler's increasing talent as author: he broadens and deepens his auctorial style, and edifies his readers while he also entertains them. Inside Out is a real page-turner of a novel. Highly recommended.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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