Review Summary: An almost perfect book.
Hedge fund trader Ricky Santeramo has it all: money, looks, and fellow trader Jonathan Hogenboom. The two couldn’t be more different: Jon is from old money, while Ricky clawed his way out of blue-collar New Jersey. Jon hedges his positions; Ricky goes for broke. Jon likes opera and the Yankees; Ricky prefers clubbing. Jon drinks wine with dinner; Ricky throws back a beer. Jon wants monogamy… but Ricky likes variety.
Bankrupt airlines are facing strikes, the housing market is starting to crumble, and Jon can’t wait any longer for Ricky to commit. One last night alone and one last risky trade make Jon say, “Enough.” Then Jon’s old friend Davis comes to New York City, ready for baseball and forever. The whole world is chaos, but there are fortunes to be made—or lost—and hearts to be broken—or won.
Faced with losing it all, Ricky must make the savviest trades of his life and pray for a rare event. His portfolio and Jon’s love are on the line.
This story is extraordinary, with characters that are immensely complex and pacing that is so fast I felt as if I were riding a wave that kept on building. I admired the author’s ingenuity, audacity and skill in writing a story based on the money markets that evolved into an exciting adventure and love story. The Rare Event absolutely blew me away and changed my perception of the world of hedge funds. What a coup for P.D. Singer – this is her best and most complex work to date as well as a wonderful journey into a world very few of us ever experience.
Meet Ricky Santeramo, the most vibrant and conflicted character in the book: The world is his oyster; he is self made, has money and looks to burn and a man who adores him, but that’s not enough for Ricky. He doesn’t believe in monogamy and screws everything that moves because to him sex is another high stakes game just like making trades, which he does without a safety net, and the only winner is Ricky. He doesn’t believe that he’s cheating on Jon because his lover knows the score and Ricky expects him to accept his philandering because he always comes back. Ricky lives by a double standard – he wants Jon but he’s not prepared to give up casual, predatory and sometimes unsafe sex with other men. It wasn’t until Jon grew a pair, recognized the rare event of happiness with Ricky and told him it was over that Ricky realized what he had lost. Unfortunately Ricky’s lack of good judgment flowed over into his business decisions, as living dangerously was second nature to him, and that cost him his job when his latest trade blew up. His favourite phrase? “Stop-losses are for pussies. It’s like planning to lose.” Loser: Ricky.
Jonathan Hogenboom is very different from Ricky. He comes from a privileged moneyed background, but one horrific incident ten years ago was like a stab to the heart and hurt him deeply. He learned a bitter lesson about lack of trust which cost him his lover and his second family, changing his life and expectations of others. When Ricky showed up Jon fell in love again, but it was almost as if he had given up on something intrinsic – fidelity. He knew there was no possibility that Ricky, being a player, would stop his sexual encounters in the backrooms of the bars he frequented, but Jon stayed with him when he really wanted someone who would be faithful, and it just seemed as if he didn’t think he deserved any better. He thought that being second banana in Ricky’s life for 2 years was better than not having him, until he realized that the investment was not going to pay off. Loser: Ricky
All the characters were well drawn and flawed. They were a mixed bag, some were weak while others were strong, just like people in real life, and there was no attempt to downplay their faults and make them perfect, a quality that is indicative of an intuitive and talented writer. So why, you may ask, didn’t I rate The Rare Event 5 stars? The book certainly deserved it but my rating came down to one secondary but important character, Edgar Wolfe, senior partner in the firm.
To me it was incomprehensible that for almost a decade Edgar was able to demand oral sex from his staff during business hours and they acquiesced because they were afraid of losing their jobs. “A minute of your time” became a phrase that I will always remember as a precursor to the grossest and most egregious abuse imaginable in the workplace and Edgar’s business partner was complicit in allowing the abuse to continue. It wasn’t until Ricky, who had himself spent 4 of the 9 years he worked for the firm on his knees for Edgar, got sick of the abuse, stood up and protected the more junior and vulnerable staff, thus embarrassing the other senior members of the firm to join him in stopping Edgar. Perhaps such blatant sexual harassment like this could happen in the workplace in this day and age but I couldn’t accept that no one had filed a sexual harassment lawsuit or bitten off Edgar’s penis in revenge. Maybe in an alternate world this abuse was possible, but even with all the uncertainty and job loss on Wall Street it didn’t seem probable to me. When the showdown with his staff came Edgar proved to be a sniveling coward and folded like a cheap suit.
Jon’s and Ricky’s romance played out against the increasingly volatile background of the meltdown in the financial markets, as tens of millions changed hands within seconds. It was fascinating to be behind the scenes and see how easy it was to trigger the subprime mortgage crisis in the US. The age-old lust for more and more money, regardless of the human cost, played out in brilliant colour in The Rare Event, as move and counter move was the name of the game as if it were a game of Monopoly, and the traders hedged their bets with billions at stake. Ricky flew without a parachute the way he did everything in his life: covering his ass on his trades was a dirty word until the inevitable catastrophe happened and he was faced with the consequences of flying without a safety net. The sophistication and speed of the trades and the situations involving puts, stop loss orders, black swan and a rare event were all very exciting, but the most exhilarating and exhausting plays were between Ricky and Jon. Ricky was Jon’s Achilles heel but Jon eventually saw where the relationship was headed and put a “stop loss” order on it.
The character who showed the most growth in this book was surprisingly, Ricky, who changed from a selfish, sex driven, thoughtless, volatile jerk into someone who really cared about Jon and finally understood what commitment meant. But it took another man who upped the ante and made it clear that he going for broke in the fight for Jon’s heart, before Ricky realized what he had almost thrown away because he had treated Jon as if he were of no consequence. The story is told mostly from Jon’s third person POV and I loved his “voice” which was self deprecating as well as strong and decisive – quite a contradiction – but very human.
I should mention that this is not a light read as there’s a lot of information about the markets in the book, and while it’s not an info dump because I consider most of it to be necessary, you should read the Glossary at the back of the book first if that helps.
If you hate cheating (or what appears to be cheating since Ricky’s and John’s relationship is not monogamous) this is probably not the book for you, but if you believe in redemption The Rare Event shows how someone can make a 180 degree turnaround and come out a winner when he realizes he has lost the most important person in his life. You may not like Ricky (I didn’t some of the time) but you may admire this extraordinarily complex and unusual man who used people just because he could. Ricky grew exponentially as the book progressed and became a different man in the end. If you like flawed, conflicted and complicated characters you will admire P.D. Singer’s gamble which paid off. Her writing was incisive, fresh, lush as well as crisp and so darned enticing that I couldn’t put this book down once I got into it. I can’t imagine the amount of research involved, but for the author the investment paid off as she gave readers a knock it out of the park with the bases loaded book unlike any I have read in the past, as she showed that characters playing with other people’s money in the world of high finance had the biggest balls.