Dana Vachon, the 28-year-old banker turned blogger turned novelist about town, was not wearing socks. Just loafers. A buttery brown leather pair that may or may not have been Gucci and cocooned his feet to reveal just the manliest hint of hair-sprinkled skin. Set against an outfit of cobalt blue jeans, gold-coin cufflinks, and a gold-buttoned blazer, they perfected the look of a fresh Welton Academy grad who had just arrived for cocktails at the club.
As it happened, Mr. Vachon wasn’t sipping cocktails but herbal tea, and he was reclining at a table at the 1990’s trend-spot Balthazar—a restaurant that is, in theory at least, not a private club. It was an intriguing choice for a young scribbler whose first novel, Mergers and Acquisitions, is being promoted as the spiritual and stylistic heir to Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney’s coke-powered chronicle of early New York yuppiedom.
Back in his woozy Bright Lights days, Mr. McInerney had made a nightly crash pad out of restaurateur Keith McNally’s Tribeca brasserie Odeon, even honoring it with a picture on the book’s cover. Now Mr. Vachon had chosen Mr. McNally’s second hot-boîte, Balthazar, as his interview spot—a move that, depending on the motivation, was either an affirmation of Mr. Vachon’s latter-day McInerney status or else just messianically cheesy.
When asked, Mr. Vachon said he had chosen the restaurant quite simply because it has “the greatest breakfast.”
“I can’t find scrambled eggs like they have here anywhere except at the Coffee Shop, which is a trek,” he said in a voice that oscillated between the pinched vowels of an Eton boy and the breathy consonants of Bill and Ted. “I read that Julian Barnes book [A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters] where the last chapter is set in heaven and every meal is breakfast, and I think Balthazar is just a goddamn good breakfast.”
Mr. Vachon has a yen for such literary allusions—to the works of Mr. Barnes one moment, to Ernest Hemingway and the ancient Roman scribe Petronius the next—which is perhaps only appropriate in a novelist who is in the process of being crowned this season’s “Lit” Boy. Each book season seems to have one: a comely and precocious young thing who is hailed as everything from an avatar of his generation’s angst and aspirations to “a compelling young literary voice,” as the Mergers and Acquisitions publicity materials put it.
On several occasions, Mr. McInerney has even been known to get in on the coronation, penning praise-filled reviews as he did for Benjamin Kunkel’s debut Indecision—which he described as “the funniest and smartest coming-of-age novel in years”—or offering back-of-the-book benedictions, as he did for Mergers and Acquisitions, which he blessed as a “witty and entertaining immorality tale which should earn Vachon many fans.”
All of which raises the question: How many heirs can a single man have? And can a Lit Boy’s published product ever live up to the Everests of hype?
MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS IS THE STORY of Tommy Quinn, an overeducated but underperforming young banker from the land of S.U.V.’s and country clubs (Westchester, that is) who finds himself adrift in the big, imperial city after college. Set in the “Late American” present, it is a satire of upper-class excess that quickly turns to farce as it follows Tommy through the absurd highs and many lows of his Wall Street baptism. Along the way he encounters silly socialites, sadistic bosses, an artist named Yves Grandchatte (that’s “Bigpussy”), a band of Zapatistas, Jesus, a bastard friend with a knack for failing upwards, and a fifth-generation Rockefeller who is so inbred he is, yes, mildly retarded. There are also enough high-end references stuffed into the book to fill a September issue of Vogue magazine.
When asked about the inspiration for all this insanity, Mr. Vachon paused and hemmed a little, then confessed. He cited Satyricon, the ancient picaresque novel by Petronius, alluded to Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, mentioned classical ring structures. And then he brought up his peers, the ones he played with during his banker days, who share his penchant for cufflinks and Rolexes—and who flit through his novel as thinly disguised versions of themselves.
“I felt like I was living with a bunch of people who had wrongly identified themselves as a post-9/11 generation,” Mr. Vachon said. “And I felt like I they were one of the most gilded and privileged groups to ever land into anything, that nobility no longer obliged but sort of entitled.
“I wanted to set down a portrait of this generation. Period,” he continued. “What’s the great Flaubertian quote? ‘All it takes for a member of the bourgeoisie to be happy is good health, selfishness, and stupidity, but the first two will get you nowhere if you don’t have the third’?” he said, slightly misquoting the author. “I love that.”
Whether others will love it, however, is ultimately the more important question—one that will be answered after April 5, the day Mergers and Acquisitions finally goes public.
Mr. Vachon can certainly write. He can scratch out a sentence and scratch it out well, with flashes of alchemy, chemistry and even poetry. But there is something tired in his tales of silicone-pumped trophy wives and smarmy banker-barons, an obviousness that gives his book the quality of one of the designer dresses that clutter his book: a piece of fine, even at times shimmery, fabric cut into a predictable shape.
But this is a first novel. And the Greenwich-born, Westchester-bred Mr. Vachon has certainly managed to walk a charmed path so far.
Even by Lit Boy standards, his ascent has been a heady one, the kind of rapid and seemingly twist-free climb that makes you wonder whether some lives don’t really follow a Euclidean logic after all.
Mr. Vachon’s brief but accelerated career began much like his protagonist Tommy Quinn’s did, with a job at the investment bank J.P. Morgan that he took after graduating from Duke with a less-than-dazzling grade-point average (Tommy graduated from Georgetown and took a job at “J.S. Spencer”). He won the job after doing two star-turn summers as a college intern—a position he landed, in turn, through a friend of his father, “which is how basically 50 percent of those internships get handed out,” he said.
“I always loved American history, loved biographies,” he recalled. “And at the end of every Theodore Roosevelt biography, J.P. Morgan showed up. And my father had a friend who was like, ‘Do you want to intern?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, this is an American institution!’ Would I want to work on the Roosevelt Bull Moose campaign? Hell yeah!”
That early enthusiasm had made Mr. Vachon “like the No. 2 intern.” But despite this pre-professional promise, he found that he was “pretty miserable” as an actual analyst—the kind of guy who, like Tommy, managed to convert the dollar into itself within his first weeks on the job. So he began dabbling at writing, returning to one of the college pastimes at which he had excelled.
From there, things moved pretty fast. He began by freelancing for magazines like The American Conservative, which led, at the suggestion of his B.B.F. (best blogger friend) Elizabeth Spiers, to a blog about the “life and adventures of a 26-year-old investment banker,” which led to his discovery by power-agent David Kuhn, which led, in the spring of 2005, to a deal with Riverhead Books. A big deal. Mr. Vachon would get $650,000 to produce two novels for the imprint. That he was a first-time author who sealed the deal on spec, with just a 70-page taste of his novel-to-be, made him irresistible to lit gossips.
“Basically, what I saw in the first things of his that I read was that he was a true writer, meaning a beautiful prose stylist and a real writer,” Mr. Kuhn told The Observer. “And he had a point of view—which not everyone has, including beautiful prose writers—about life, about the world, about society, about culture, about his generation.”
NOW, LESS THAN TWO YEARS LATER, Mr. Vachon has turned this “point of view” into a finished book, a 290-page hardcover that is getting a decidedly swanky Riverhead rollout.
“We’re putting in a lot of resources,” said Riverhead publisher Geoffrey Kloske. “Right now, it’s our lead fiction title of the moment, and a lot of care and energy has gone into developing the publicity campaign and marketing and everything else.”
“Everything else” apparently includes a lot. Along with all the usual promotional fare, there are the launch parties at Manhattan’s new, nasty-named hangout, The Box, and at L.A.’s Chateau Marmont—the latter hosted by Anonymous Content, the production company that has already optioned Mergers and Acquisitions (and most recently produced Babel). There is the “exclusive excerpt” in this month’s re-relaunched Radar. There are the publicity packages (sent in bankerly file folders), the splashy J.S. Spencer “Web site” and, of course, the galleys that come stamped with pictures of Mr. Vachon’s fetching face: his perfectly disheveled hair, his Oxford-blue eyes, and the nose that stands in strong and pert salute to his resolutely nonethnic ancestry.
“I have a face for print,” Mr. Vachon joked as he squirmed—oddly, it seemed, for a man who has probably never known an unfortunate photograph—before the Observer photographer who was snapping his picture. “I feel you should get hazard pay.”
More likely, though, Mr. Vachon will find himself increasingly on the bright side of the flashbulb in the next few weeks, as the book parade begins. And then, at some point, it will be over, and it will be time for him to turn to his second novel—perhaps even to return to the family beach house where he finished the first one. (“The stress got so bad this summer I was drinking two bottles of Cab-Sav a day—or Sauvignon Blanc, rather,” he joked.) He said he already knows what he wants to write.
“It’s a book about space tourism, Westchester County, instant unwanted fame and, um, the possibility of a new beginning, maybe? Of renewal?” he said, his voice ticking upward with excitement. “I mean, I feel the book I just wrote is so much about cities built on cities built on cities, and this one is not.”
He smiled. His teeth were strong and straight.
“I’m either going to call it Barrett Sumner,” he said, “or The Mexican Tornado.”