Trading Dreams is, more than anything, a novel about confusion both personal and political. A not-so-recent Harvard grad coming up on thirty with a traumatic past and enough failed relationships to prove it, J.L. Morin’s Jerry arrives in New York City and at Global American Bank right before 2011’s financial crisis is set to explode. Just as unsure of her own motivations as everyone around her is, Jerry can only attempt to stay afloat atop the teetering skyscrapers of Manhattan’s Financial District as the Occupy Wall Street movement gains traction on the ground below.
Trading Dreams, Morin’s third novel, was released earlier in August by Harvard Square Editions, an alumni-run publishing group that focuses on exposing the creative endeavors of Harvard alumni to a wider audience. Morin graduated from Mather House in 1987 after spending her senior year working through a creative thesis in the English department, and then spent six years trading on Wall Street while working towards her M.B.A. at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Her intimate knowledge of both worlds allows Morin to write Jerry as a woman brimming with the intensity and insecurity that some might recognize as characteristic of both Harvard and Wall Street. Despite her initial insecurity, competence at work gives her confidence, and she morphs from a fogged robo-signer of orphaned mortgages into a dizzyingly high-powered trader. While Jerry is aware that she is playing a dangerous game in a boy’s world, she is too damaged and naive to truly appreciate its risks. She can handle the daily sexual harassment and hold her own on the floor, but behind her bold facade, she is little more than a puppet that forgot it has strings. When the mortgage bubble breaks entirely, however, and the Occupy movement grows from a soft chant to a roar, her puppet strings pull taut and snap, leaving her open for a redemption she finally secures.
At the novel’s start, Jerry is as new to the world of big banking as she is to New York, and a sense of displacement muffles her reality and the reader’s perceptions of it. Morin’s tone is apt as it mirrors the confusion of the time and place, and Jerry and her diary-snooping boss’s unreliable narration adds to these distortions. Somewhat unnecessarily, but ultimately enjoyably, Morin has Jerry running from her mother’s murderer throughout a plot already sufficiently tightened by the inevitability of Wall Street’s downfall. The murder thread is woven but very lightly into the book until the last few chapters, making it a sometimes jarring addition to Jerry’s history until key elements begin falling into place.
For most of the book, it is not so much Jerry’s traumatic past as the effect it has on her that makes Trading Dreams worth reading. Her personal life, marked by self-doubt and bad luck in love, is a fraught mess. Deemed “too intese… for most men” by the most fragile of her many lovers (what Harvard woman hasn’t heard that before?), Jerry embarks on a hazy but surprisingly detached path to something resembling sexual addiction, but with more control. She is frightening to follow as she swings between cold, nameless one-night stands and delusional commitment to a man she can’t really know. Yet she has goals, and sense, and with this Morin allows us to connect with Jerry as old friends begin to flesh out her past.
Although Morin spends most of the book chipping away at her protagonist’s mysterious past and fully reveals it in the book’s satisfying climax, we leave Trading Dreams not fully knowing Jerry. However, by the last chapter it seems we don’t need to. As the confusion in Jerry’s personal life clears and she reaches what could be called catharsis, the confusion on Wall Street intensifies and the full significance of Occupy Wall Street’s presence in the novel becomes apparent. Jerry becomes a stand-in for figures on both sides of the cultural and economic divide, and Morin’s sometimes heavy-handed references to the misogyny, immorality, and hypocrisy of Wall Street fall into place correspondingly.
Although the continuing economic crisis has been at the forefront of political and social dialogue since 2008, there has been a dearth of novels dealing directly with its most iconic events. Trading Dreams is not entirely about the crisis or Occupy Wall Street — Jerry is far too compelling of a character for that. It is, however, a novel that reflects the Occupy era’s mood, and its setting and minor players necessitates exposing enough greed, hypocrisy, and blatant illegality to make even the least informed reader deliciously angry.
– 382 pp. Harvard Square Editions, Ltd. Trading Dreams is currently available in paperback on Amazon for $14.95, on the Kindle for $0.99, or in the Kindle’s lending library for free. The Kindle edition will be free from October 10th – 14th.