Vanity Fair deputy editor Doug Stumpf adopts two voices in his debut novel, Confessions Of A Wall Street Shoeshine Boy. The first is one he knows well: an overpaid glossy-magazine writer, Greg Waggoner, coming to the end of his contract, and in search of a big story that'll convince his editor to retain him. The second voice is a little trickier. It belongs to Gil Benicio, a twentysomething Brazilian immigrant who shines shoes for traders at a high-powered Manhattan brokerage. When Gil finds out about some possible insider trading by one of the company's studs, he passes the tip on to Greg. Stumpf tells their intertwined stories in alternating first-person chapters.
Confessions doesn't have a lot going for it as a tale of corporate intrigue. The insider-trading plot really only has a few dots to connect, and though Stumpf dawdles as long as he can, he eventually has to draw those lines and complete a picture that'll be familiar to anyone who's ever read a book or watched a movie set on Wall Street. Stumpf clearly isn't that interested in his plot either, since he spends page after page describing—from the inside—the life of a harried journalist and his young, party-loving source. He has their slang, their worries, and their anecdotes all down pat.
But after a while, Stumpf's trick of inhabiting these two characters becomes less impressive. When he describes the methods Greg uses to pin down a tough interviewee, there's a momentary buzz at hearing a few trade secrets, but ultimately, the character seems too close to the author for Stumpf to round him out. It's as though he were afraid to judge himself too harshly or too kindly, so he makes Greg sort of a bland screw-up. Stumpf has far more fun pretending to be a Brazilian shoeshine boy, telling dirty jokes and marveling at America's bounty, but he apparently didn't trust himself to write the whole story from that perspective, so he brings in the equivalent of a translator every few pages. The result is a class-conscious morality play that tries to make rich and poor look equally well-meaning, and ends up making them look equally dull.