An economic recession, if nothing else, allows, or even forces, many of us to reexamine our lives, to reconsider our goals and needs, and, sometimes, to reassess our values, beliefs and behaviors. And while, at times, this examination may seem more like a trial or a test, this process, if properly and carefully managed, can sometimes result in a whole new perspective — a positive and powerful outlook that can truly benefit us in the future.
This process is the subject of The Net Present Value of Life, the thought-provoking debut novel by Michael Di Lauro that couldn’t be more timely.
In the book we meet Charles, a successful financial analyst in his early forties, who, after twenty years on the job, reaches the unsettling conclusion that his life has no real purpose or meaning. Each day is exactly the same as the last, a ridiculous routine of all of the same meetings with all of the same people having all of the same conversations. In fact, the only highlight of Charles’ routine is sitting alone at the park, eating his lunch and listening to his favorite music on his iPod.
What’s interesting is that this is not simply a mid-life crisis for Charles. It’s much bigger than that. Even Charles, despite his anger and restlessness, knows that it’s something more. After all, he should be happy. Not only is he very good at his job, he’s very well- compensated for doing it. Rumor has it he’s even up for a major promotion, which would put him exactly where he needs to be on the timeline of his own plan for living the kind of prosperous life he’s always wanted.
But Charles isn’t happy. And it’s not until a chance encounter at the park with a woman named Fay, a brilliant and mysterious British senior citizen, that Charles is suddenly inspired to figure out why. Over the course of several weeks, we’re flies on the wall of this odd couple’s daily dialogues, listening in on a new perspective about life that could help Charles reach all of his goals or could end up costing him everything he’s worked his entire life to achieve.
What I liked most about The Net Present Value of Life is the writing itself. The book is basically a series of dialogues between Charles and Fay from their favorite bench at the park. It’s not a plot-driven or character-driven work. This is a tricky idea-driven structure that is difficult to pull off, especially for a first-time writer. I think that, for the most part, Di Lauro succeeds thanks to a detached first-person narrative that sounds authentic — that is, it reads as if it was an actual journal written by an actual financial professional and not some plucky or poetic English professor poorly disguised as a broker. This quality allows for a much faster pace than books of this ilk generally enjoy and, because of this, makes for a much more enjoyable read.
I recently had the chance to interview Di Lauro about his book and his life. Please take a few more minutes to read the revealing interview at LA Books Examiner.