How To Sell by Clancy Martin

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How To Sell by Clancy Martin

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Drawing on his own experience in the jewellery business, Clancy Martin has an interesting tale to tell of two brothers and their cons, but it's a struggle to get through the mannered narration.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 304 Date: June 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099532187

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In the 1980's, 16 year old Bobby Clark gets expelled from his high school in Canada for stealing. This is a young boy so immoral that he pilfers his own mother's wedding ring to pawn for cash to keep a girl happy. After the girl turns out to be less interested in him than he is in her, he follows his older brother Jim to Texas, where he gets a job working with Jim in a jewellery store. As he falls into a life of scams, drugs, hookers, gorgeous women, and an obsession with Jim's girlfriend Lisa, it's clear that this coming of age story is a tragedy waiting to happen.

It's also fairly clear that author Clancy Martin is desperately trying to write a 'Great American Novel', and perhaps the hype given to this book on the front cover isn't doing it any favours in that respect either. Martin is an Associate Professor of Philosophy as well as being an author, and he seems to be trying for an impressive tone here but his narrator Bobby comes across as leaden for the most part. There's lots of interesting stories to be told by the younger of the two Clarks, and some intriguing glances into what are apparently real-life scams – Martin was formerly in the jewellery business himself and admits to taking part in dishonest practices – but it's so, so hard to wade through some of the prose and the dialogue to get to the juicier parts.

I also thought there was a real lack of interesting characters here, with most of them coming across as two-dimensional. One of the worst offenders is Bobby's father, a deadbeat womanizer who believes in an astral companion who advises him. Another is Lisa, who comes between the two young men but appears to have few qualities which would make either of them interested in her.

On the plus side, some of those scams are really breathtaking in their audacity, and if you can get past the writing style there's some very nice moments – particularly one in which Bobby tries to help a poor woman who everyone else in the store is hoping he'll rip off. It's a delicious scene, as she's mystified by him trying to help her at the store's expense and her reaction is drawing completely unwanted attention to them. All in all, though, these highlights are a bit too few and far between to be able to particularly recommend this novel to anyone.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For a more impressive coming of age novel then try Submarine by Joe Dunthorne.

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