Someone recently asked me what sort of books I liked, and I answered that I particularly enjoyed stuff with lots of sex, drugs, profanity and lines like “I need this to be platinum by tomorrow.”
I said that because I had just finished Clancy Martin’s marvelously decadent debut How To Sell, which is about sex, drugs, profanity and the high-end gem trade.
The hero of the story, Bobby Clark, leaves his home in Canada at age sixteen after his girlfriend dumps him. He ends up in Dallas-Fort Worth, where his older brother Jim sets him up with a job as a gofer in a discount top-end jewellery shop.
It isn’t long before Bobby moves up:
“Son. Let me see that watch, there, con. That big daddy. The gold one.”
I was Windexing the Rolex case…I had done the trash, the ashtrays, and the vacuuming but I was behind on the showcases because Jim had sold one hundred and eighty thousand over the weekend, so he slept in.
In this scene, Bobby pretends to be a salesman and his career is under way.
It doesn’t take him long, either, to master the tricks of the trade, which include selling bracelets and watches one does not yet actually possess and keeping the clients well-lubricated.
He makes some of his bigger sales to an egregiously wealthy yokel named Joe Link with help from a female colleague, nicknamed the Polack, with whom he’s also having an affair:
He had a Jack and Coke in his hand. He was a tanned old Texas rancher who had made a fortune, young, in the Gulf, by building and leasing enormous steel barges. He liked to stir around the ice cubes in his drink with his large brown index finger. Usually, he would have three or four while he was in the store, and I told the Polack to keep them coming and pour them strong.
In the end, Joe Link walks out with a gold-and-emerald bracelet he thinks is made of platinum, believing it formerly belonged to an Argentinean countess.
Clancy Martin also used to work in the gem trade, and the novel is full of the sort of detail and jargon you only get from an author writing from experience.
But Martin is also now a professor of philosophy, which leads to a really good story in which Bobby placates an angry customer, who’s sick of waiting for a Rolex, by telling him the company’s customs agent has died in a tragic fire.
The best bit is the name Bobby chooses for the fictional agent:
I showed Jim where I had written it down on the page of the legal pad that would go into Myers’s file. “It’s German,” I said.
“Huh. That doesn’t help. How do you say that? I like that name. Let’s use that a lot. Poor ole Shoopenhauer.”
“Schopenhauer,” I said.
“Right, got it. Shoopenhauer. Burned up in the great Chicago fire of 1987.”
Clancy Martin’s How to Sell, is a raunchy, funny, thoughtful novel about the ways in which people hoodwink one another in pursuit of things – money, sex, diamonds – they think will make them happy.
I was sold from page one – and never suffered from buyer’s remorse.