“Difficult stories have more tense changes and points of view than the bright stars in a studied night sky”
“You live best if you share stories”
In one of the most pleasant surprises of this reading year, Steve Saroff, an author, entrepreneur and host of the literary podcast Montana Voice, merges smoothly distinct genres and finally delivers a first-class literary fiction novel with heavy poetic and lyrical undertones. Paper Targets features a story that is inspired by a real-life multi-million dollar fraud, one of the largest in history, that involved several computer software corporations around the world. The focus, however, is not so much in the plot but in the multi-layered characters conjured by Saroff whose actions and overall behavior prompts the reader to probe deeper into their mental state and eventually identify with their conflicting emotions, crippling anxieties, and overwhelming feelings of remorse. The author shares some critical affinities with the protagonist and first-person narrator of the story, Enzi, the most prominent being that both of them were kids who run away from their homes in search for a better and more thrilling life.
As we turn the pages and the plot moves forward, we feel with increasing strength that we inhabit a special place withing Enzi’s mind, witnessing his innermost thoughts and phobias originating from his unhappy childhood years and his debilitating problem of dyslexia that tormented him as a kid. The novel commences with a chapter that is devoted to Enzi’s first years in life, providing the necessary background of the character that explains some of his decisions that were destined to mark the rest of his life. We read as Enzi grows up and finds solace in the world of mathematics, embracing its distinctive language that is brimming with symbols and condensed meaning and learning to recognize shapes in patterns in the physical world that surrounds him. Enzi’s infatuation with math helps him to overcome his fear of texts and learn to appreciate the universe consisted by written words on page. In the following chapters, Saroff introduces Kaori, a Japanese artist, who meets Enzi at a party and forges a special bond with him, one that will later prove to be lethal and devastating for the protagonist. Later, we are let on Enzi’s secret and his involvement in an insider trading scheme, working on behalf of a shady Chinese immigrant who aspires to become a millionaire by committing large-scale fraud.
The author’s prose is austere and succinct, often employing short sentences that shine in their simplicity and potential to convey what the characters think and feel each time. Enzi is a protagonist who will linger on your memory for long as he is a man who doesn’t know the words but can definitely hear the cosmic music and be inspired by it. His romantic liaisons with the two women who, each for her/their own reasons, leave a deep imprint into Enzi’s soul are described in such a manner that we feel for the protagonist and suffer with his sufferings. Moreover, Saroff is relentless in his critique of the corporate world and its, full of inflated egotism and boastful pride, bigshot businessmen who never dare to acknowledge their own flaws and deficiencies in order not to lose face in a universe where showing superiority is the ultimate goal and desire. Since I am completely oblivious of the workings and machinations of large-scale companies of any kind, I found this to be illuminating and I gained insight into a field that I knew almost nothing about. The only thing that I found a bit troublesome was some lengthy pieces of dialogue involving the specifics of computer coding that become somewhat tiring, especially in the eyes of a layman. However, this little flaw doesn’t spoil an overall rich reading experience, one of the most intriguing I had in the course of this summer so far. I want to thank from the bottom of my heart the publisher for providing me with a free copy in exchange of an honest review and I can safely state that Steve Saroff just entered my radar detecting new releases from favorite authors in the future.