No doubt you’ve read a good number of books in which you know the protagonist is in trouble, even though they sort of don’t. They may be with the wrong person, or in the wrong place, or working for the wrong people in the wrong business. Rafael Frumkin’s second novel, Confidence, is not only one of those books but also features all of the above.
When the novel opens, Ezra Green is in prison for being a flimflam man, but he’s still peddling the same snake oil as he was on the outside. The only difference is that now he’s doing it for cigarettes and ramen noodles as opposed to millions, nay, billions of dollars.
Ezra, the son of working-class parents, is larcenous from an early age. Small in stature, with terrible eyesight, teenage Ezra is sent (on scholarship) to a boot camp usually attended by rich bad boys. There he meets and falls in love with handsome, smooth-talking and completely amoral Orson Ortman. He is the train wreck you want to warn Ezra against, the miscreant who makes all the red flags start waving. It may be a bit on the nose, but Ezra’s blind spots aren’t limited to his vision.
Once out of the camp, the boys quickly learn how to separate rich and gullible people, especially women, from their money. They start small and end up concocting the mother of all scams: NuLife, a fake spiritual healing company that’s facilitated by the Bliss-Mini, a machine with bright lights that you clamp on your head. How it works is anyone’s guess, but it makes Ezra and Orson multimillionaires in their 20s and transforms Orson into a cult leader. All the while, Ezra pines for him with pitiable desperation.
Author of The Comedown, Frumkin is superb at dissecting all manner of malfeasance and corruption. Ezra doesn’t blink when he has his assistants cook the books, default on loans (Deutsche Bank, anyone?), defraud customers and shareholders and slime those who threaten to out the company as a boondoggle. In one hilariously ghastly scene, a man whose idea was stolen by Orson shows up in NuLife’s boardroom, threatening to sue like the Winklevoss twins but “dressed in the hoodie and jeans of the Zuckerbergian douchebag.” Even a military coup in South America doesn’t bother Ezra, as long as the bucks keep coming in and Orson is happy.
In a world where well-heeled heels are arrested for cryptocurrency scams, squillionaires gleefully trash their own vanity projects and masters of the universe disgrace themselves over and over, Confidence’s arrival is beyond timely.