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April 1, 2004

A Nightmare on Wall Street

By Gregory Bresiger

Also in this article

American Sucker

by David Denby

(Little Brown and Company, $24.95, 337 pages.)

Reviewed by Gregory Bresiger

This is a strange book. But, then again, all one has to be do is turn on the idiot box to see that we live in some strange times. The medium of, by and for morons is usually littered with clowns telling other clowns why they did certain embarrassing things. The host of the average tube talk fest, usually a man or woman who in another era would likely be in a straight jacket somewhere, is ravenous for every devilish detail. The pathetic guest will often tearfully tell all between commercials for human growth hormone pills and

"proven ways" to make millions of dollars in real estate if one will only "rush $49.95, plus $16.95 for postage and handling," to an address in the Bahamas.

Why shouldn't readers also have the same kind of fun as the human blanks who watch these shows? Well, thanks to the esteemed publishing house of Little Brown and Company, the printed word equivalent of idiot box tales will be coming to a sewer near you. What possesses people to write such books, blabbing the most intimate sins and details of their private lives? Vanity? Fame? Money?

Maybe, in the case of the author, a film critic for the New Yorker, it is the last. That's because he probably needs money to keep up the high times lifestyle that he believes every civilized person must have. This book is the story of how he tried to make $1 million in a relatively short period of time and ended up doing the reverse - he lost close to a million dollars. Denby needed $1 million, he believed, because his marriage was about to break up and he wanted to buy his wife's share of an apartment on the West Side of Manhattan.

So he sets out, in the latter part of the bull market when everyone and his uncle thought a killing was to be made in the stock market, to make oodles of dinero fast. That's always an excellent prescription for financial disaster as Denby proves in this silly book.

Still, one wonders at the outset, as Denby drives as fast as he can into this investment crash, why? Would it have been a cruel and unusual punishment for Denby just to move to Queens? Why did he feel this apparent envy of people who had more money than he did? If all one has to do is make a lot of money to be happy, then why do so many rich people end up on the couch, recounting their problems to pricy doctors? Was it absolutely essential for Denby to make a million bucks so quickly?

Even though the poor man's wife was leaving him, he was never facing unemployment, homelessness or living without cable television. And the last gruesome option probably would have been good for him.