“The irony is not lost on me that it is my success in the finance industry that has given me the means to spend my time pillorying it.”
So says Luke Fellows, author of Snatch 2&20, an edgy burlesque of everything Wall Street. Readers familiar with the machinations of hedge funds, investment banking and private equity will probably toggle between nodding in agreement and shaking their heads, but anyone would find it hard to stop reading.
Following Giles Goodenough’s adventures in economics is like watching a more sophisticated Forrest Gump navigate ordinary life, but Giles admits his shortcomings. He almost depends on them, being rather surprised that those around him don’t notice.
We had the chance to gain further insights into the book, the author and his entertaining yet disturbing take on the financial industry in this recent Q&A. You can also read our review of the book here.
Q: Snatch 2&20 is not a favorable portrayal of the financial industry, especially hedge funds and private equity. How did your friends, colleagues and former clients react to the book?
A: I’m glad the portrayal comes across as unfavorable! It is meant to be an exaggerated lampoon, but that doesn’t alter the fact that my view of the industry is somewhere between deep cynicism and positive hostility. That’s not to say there aren’t some good people who work in finance, just not that many, especially at the top.
And that’s what the system demands. The incentives embedded in it encourage greed, corruption and, frankly, mediocrity masquerading as mastery. Self-interest and callous disregard for others may not be openly embraced, but they are hardly discouraged, and the greatest success is reserved for those willing to go beyond societal norms of behavior. That’s my take anyway. As for people’s reactions, I didn’t want to test Jonathan Swift’s famous dictum that “Satire is a sort of glass wherein the beholders do generally discover everyone’s face but their own” — so I wrote it under a pseudonym.
Q: The word “snatch” is a pointed choice for the way money managers earn their money. What other words did you consider? If you had other working titles before you decided on this title, what were they?
A: I thought about All Is for the Best. It was Giles’s dead mother’s favorite saying and is a nod to Pangloss’s maxim in Candide. The point about the novel is that it depicts the worst of all possible worlds, and everything only turns out for the best for Giles when he realizes he needs to get out of it.
However, in the end, I felt that the central focus is the rapacity of the hedge fund industry, so I went with Snatch 2&20. It is a pointed choice of words, but I believe it to be spot on, especially in light of the fact that hedge funders make their egregious fortunes not in creating something, but in snatching value when swapping bits of paper. It is also, of course, a nod to my favorite satire of all, Catch-22, which also explores the pointlessness and hypocrisy of a system (in that case, the military).
Q: What career did you choose after you left managing a hedge fund? How did the experiences of managing a hedge fund prepare you for what you do today?
A: If retirement is a career, I’ve chosen it. Working at a hedge fund prepared me for it perfectly, as no one actually does much hard work. In addition to massacring the game of golf, I now spend time doing not-for-profit work and raising a family. But mostly, I’m trying to write. It is deeply cathartic, whether anyone reads it and likes it or not. The irony is not lost on me that it is my success in the finance industry that has given me the means to spend my time pillorying it. But then, as is clear in Snatch 2&20, hypocrisy is pretty much a universal human trait.
Q: What would you want readers to take away from reading your book?
A: The financial system is broken. Vast fortunes are being created by people who add very little, if anything, to society as a whole. They pay back very little into the system. And they often live outside the bounds of social norms, reveling in the deluded belief that they are special and brilliant and fully deserving of their success, which is, in fact, usually a combination of luck and moral flexibility. They control politics and the government. They bend everyone’s lives to their own.
But on an individual level, if you realize the sickness of the system, there is hope in saving yourself by jumping ship, swimming to a better place and perhaps trying to change things from the outside. It can be changed. In fact, it would be relatively simple to crack down on and disincentivize this kind of behavior. But it will take broader society mobilizing against it.
Q: What was the most challenging part of the book to write?
A: The easy part was that I’ve been surrounded by and lived a lot of the content in the book. The characters are mostly parodies of people I’ve worked with or known, with a little bit of myself thrown in every now and again. The hardest part was making it a fun read without sacrificing the seriousness of the message that underlies it.
Q: What’s your next book going to be about?
A: Well, I’ll just say that Giles doesn’t die at the end … perhaps he goes on to bigger and better adventures that expose more fakery and hypocrisy in our world? Or maybe he doesn’t. Who knows? I’m not sure I do yet.
Snatch 2&20 is available for purchase. You can learn more about Luke E. Fellows on his author profile page.