Peter Mountford's debut, 2011's award-winning A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism, explored the overlapping pulls of wealth, love, greed, and deceit through the conflicted coming-of-age of an alleged journalist working for a US hedge fund in Bolivia. It was a lively and, though set in 2005, timely story about power, politics, and how far people will go to achieve the lifestyle they believe they deserve.
His new novel, The Dismal Science, comes at the imperfections of capitalism from another angle. A middle-aged VP at the World Bank, who's lost his wife and becomes embroiled in scandal, tries to start his live over when he has no idea how, or even what that means. A man of habit and conviction, he's suddenly neither. "Look, this is capitalism," says the economist, before his life collapses. "We happen to think it works."
In this smart, somber tale, Mountford seems to be saying, about capitalism and life: It works, until it doesn't.
The Dismal Science tells of a self-destructive and emotionally unstable executive at the World Bank whose outbursts have geopolitical consequences -- at turns tragic and comedic, the novel is a meditation on the fragile nature of identity.
What's on your nightstand?
Preferred reading format?
Print. I don't object to digital reading in the way that some people do, but I just haven't bought one of those e-readers. I keep waiting for someone to give me one. Hint hint!
Book that made you want to become a writer?
Lolita. I was pretty oblivious, I'm sorry to say, and I thought that because Nabokov was Russian, that meant he was from the 19th Century and wrote enormous novels with dozens of characters. I started reading and was floored. I didn't know that prose could be that magnificent. I read all of his published books after that, and he wrote a lot of books. These lectures on Gogol, a book on Don Quixote, etc. All for that voice, those sentences. As he puts it in the opening of Lolita: "You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style."
What are you psyched about now?
Getting back to writing soon. I've been out promoting this book for a while -- touring for a few weeks. But I feel all this potential energy collecting, creative equivalent to static electricity. It's building up inside me -- shedding sparks a bit, at this point. It's going to be fun once I can stop charging around and sit still for a minute.
W.H. Auden: "Great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings."
What's next for you?
A novel set in Sri Lanka in 2009, at the peak of their civil war. It's narrated by a 30-something woman who's always been a bit of an unambitious dabbler, but finds herself in a very demanding situation, wielding a lot of power.
> Read his New York Times Magazine "Lives" column