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The Audacity

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A bracing satire about the implosion of a Theranos-like company, a collapsing marriage, and a billionaires’ “philanthropy summit,” for fans of Hari Kunzru and The White Lotus.

In 72 hours, a blockbuster exposé will reveal Victoria Stevens’s multibillion-dollar startup as a massive fraud. And Victoria has gone missing. Has she faked her death, leaving her husband, Guy Sarvananthan, to face the fallout— and potential jail time? Should Guy flee to his native Sri Lanka, an outcast and a failure? Or embrace denial? Opting for the latter, he takes the corporate jet to a private Caribbean island, where the 0.0001% have gathered to decide which one of the world’s biggest problems to “eradicate forever.” Guy drinks and drugs his way into oblivion, through manicured jungles and aboard superyachts, amid captains of industry, legions of staff, and unlikely saboteurs.
Meanwhile, Victoria narrates her side of the story from an off-the-grid location in the California desert. In scribbled diary entries shot through with cultish self-help mantras, she plots her comeback, confident she’ll prove everyone wrong. Again.
Ryan Chapman’s incisive novel is a swan dive into the abyss and “Martin Amis’s Money for really late, late capitalism” (Amitava Kumar, author of A Time Outside This Time).

ISBN-13: 9781641295628

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Soho Press

Publication Date: 04-02-2024

Pages: 288

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

Ryan Chapman is a Sri Lankan–American writer originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and currently based in Kingston, New York. He is the author of Riots I Have Known, which NPR named “one of the smartest—and best—novels of the year,” among other accolades. His criticism and humor pieces have appeared in Bookforum, The New Yorker, The Guardian, McSweeney’s, BOMB, The Brooklyn Rail, Frieze, and elsewhere.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The necessary breakthroughs did not occur within the expected or justifiable life cycle of the product.”
     Guy received the text Thursday evening his time, late afternoon her time. He assumed it was meant for the company Slack. She had done this before: the dry nature of the missive, in addition to the formality of the grammar, contrasted with their clipped marital exchanges. Tonight was the Oxfam dinner, which V would have known. He replied with a question mark and drained his second flute.
     As a veteran of the gala circuit, he knew he had ten minutes to eat before interruption by glad-handers and chummy acquaintances. The tuna tartare was a sensorial affront, given the slides of West African children warped by malaria and wefted by malnutrition. At least next week’s Robin Hood gala wouldn’t stoop to a slideshow. Though the chatter at cocktails was that everyone was skipping Robin Hood. Booking Yo-Yo Ma so soon after the Drawing Center . . . Much too much Ma, and certainly not the mood. He took another bite and ignored the scolding voice-over by the model/actor/activist. Yet another ingenue embarrassed by their frictionless ascent.
     Roark Jefferson, seated to his left, pushed aside an untouched plate and sighed with glottal force. “The Drawing Center served steak. And they’re on the ropes. This mess”—he mashed the fleshy pink ziggurat with a fork—“is just guilt made manifest by some aspirant more sous than chef.”
     Guy loved Roark. To the manner born and, like a wizened character actor, a man one couldn’t imagine ever being under fifty. He wore bespoke pinstripe and Charvet shirting, which did a reasonable job of directing the eye away from the splotched complexion of an overripe banana, and he adhered to outmoded WASP traditions like only wearing sneakers on the tennis court. His family had accrued their wealth the old-fashioned way—that is, passively, as rentier moguls. Roark expanded his modest inheritance of Harlem brownstones into a quiet fiefdom and, at the age when most handed over the reins, multiplied his fortune by repurposing shipping containers as stand-alone rooftop apartments. This expansion of the housing inventory earned praise from the mayor and urban studies think tanks. Since Roark could not patent the concept, he stockpiled the global supply of coupling hardware for the containers, which braced the weight transversely. (Roark often corrected people on this point: the containers did not sit on top of the building, but “athwart” it.)
     He had come out of the closet at seventy, which he celebrated with the establishment of an invitation-only cigar club in the Flatiron District: “Like the Yale club, but more selective.”
     Roark leaned over as the slideshow closed with what sounded like fake Satie; the pat outro did not send one reaching for the pocketbook.
     “My boy,” Roark said. “Did I see you at the Drawing Center? A week ago Friday.”
     Guy remembered the invitation. It was either held in the same event space they were sitting in now—a former bank from the gilded age—or in the LES, at the other gilded-age bank-turned-event-space.
     “Couldn’t make it,” he said. “I Guggenheimed. We’re an underwriter.”
     “Well,” Roark said. “That evening I had an insight I’d like to share. With an aesthete such as yourself.”
     “A failed aesthete such as myself,” Guy replied. His previous life fascinated the gala set. They lacquered his decades as a struggling composer with vicarious nostalgia. He didn’t mind, was in fact grateful for how it assuaged his imposter syndrome after V’s pole-vault up the tax brackets. And for how it assuaged other aspects: Guy was almost always the only Sri Lankan in the room, whether it was high school in suburban Minneapolis, conservatory in Philadelphia, or these august rooms. At fundraisers and dinners “In Honor Of” whomever he played the Good Time Charlie, improvising cocktails at the bar (the Ironclad Prenup, the Bahama S-Corp) or tickling the ivories on someone’s Steinway. His piano was barely passable, even to his atrophied ear, and would have been shameful at the old alma mater. But the gala set gave him the benefit of the doubt. As was their practice and default position.
     “‘Failed,’ come now.” Roark waved away Guy’s false modesty. “The flame still burns within. So I’m browsing the auction—decent to middling. Ho-hum Elizabeth Peyton, a rushed Henry Taylor. Nothing like 2005, when I picked up my Wiley for a song. It’s in the Montauk place—have you been?”
     “To yours? Yes, the last lawn party.” Guy disarmed the tuna with a third flute. He felt a tickle on his upper lip; a hair he’d missed shaving.
     “Of course, of course. Anyhow. I realized that none of my contemporary works depict our people.” He opened his arm to indicate the room. “The same applies for cinema, literature, popular song.”
     Guy leaned back in his chair. “You want more art about the affluent.” From this angle, the long-stemmed calla lilies in the centerpiece appeared an extension of Roark’s much-envied white pomp, amplifying the import of his speech and, when the uplights hit just so, giving the impression of a light bulb over his head.
     “More art by the affluent,” Roark replied. “No more of this reportage, these outsiders’ chronicles.”
     “Aren’t you writing your memoirs?”
     Roark didn’t hear the question. “In our society, we value individual life by the measure of one’s monetary reserve.” He put a hand over his wineglass at a waiter’s approach. “Why shouldn’t the highest-valued individuals be the ones telling the stories?”
     “And they’re not,” Guy replied.
     “Not like before. Proust. Montaigne, Wharton. All writers of means.”
     “De Sade, too,” Guy said. “Didn’t he torture sex workers?”
     “I’m not talking morality here—”
     “You guys are exactly right.” A man with an oval, featureless head peered around the centerpiece. He looked to Guy like that optical illusion of a face that could be seen upside down, the bald head becoming the chin, forehead wrinkles as tightened lips.
     “Exactly right,” the man continued. “Money is speech, after all, according to the highest court in the land. And we have the most speech!”
     Roark pointed his fork at the man. “Mind your manners, Saul. This is a private conversation.”
     Guy was vaguely familiar. A hedge fundie who’d long grown accustomed to speaking without pushback or request for clarification and so felt comfortable with specious bullshit like “I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative.” As if there were any sphere of American life separate from money.
     They ignored him.
     “It’s an intriguing idea,” Guy said. He straightened and put his hand over his flute. “Implementation might be tricky.”
     “I thought of that. It should arise organically, hmm? After all, we’re people too.”
     “We are people too. That is correct.”
     Roark nodded toward the screen above the podium. The Jefferson Development Group’s anodyne logo flashed in a row of platinum supporters (“Close Friends of Oxfam”). Guy waited a beat for PrevYou. He could look up how much V’s advisory group recommended she donate. But he decided he didn’t care and it didn’t matter in the end. A six-figure fillip out of a ten-figure purse. Ah, there it was: Nice Friends of Oxfam. He hadn’t adjusted to the new logo, despite its ubiquity on the portfolios and notepads around the Manhattan place. The semiabstract drawing hinted at a crustacean, in the style of a single-stroke Picasso, which the consultant from Wolff Olins praised as “no-brow universalism.” V had to connect the dots for Guy: “Crab, cancer. You don’t get it?” Even when he saw the logo projected in Times Square to celebrate the Series H investment round—the squiggle floating above phrases like “from chaos, order” and “benign is divine”—Guy always saw it as purely gastrointestinal.
     Roark folded his napkin and set it on his plate. “I’m retiring for the evening. Will I see you at Averman’s?”
     “Victoria might attend. I don’t think I can tag along.”
     “Quite right. One invite per capita, no assistants, no partners. Which, given the holiday weekend, seems a bit strict.”
     V had mentioned Arthur Averman’s conference before she left for California. She made it sound onerous, though she considered all nontransactional gatherings on par with jury duty.
     “Enjoy answering all the big questions,” Guy said. “Saturday I’m being fêted by the Brooklyn Phil.”
     Roark pulled a coat check ticket from his breast pocket. Given the weather, Guy wondered if the man had checked an umbrella, despite arriving by car.
     “I hadn’t realized the outer boroughs supported their own philharmonics,” Roark said. “Well, good evening.”
     Guy thought of sticking around. See if anyone was up for a cognac in the semisecret lounge off the rear staircase. Then he remembered Averman’s advice during the First Flush, nearly a decade ago: Don’t stay too late, it looks desperate. Don’t act like you won’t have it next year. You will. You deserve it. You always have.