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Book Review: A Questionable Life by Luke Lively

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Jack Oliver’s whole life has been consumed with getting ahead in his banking career. He has worked long hours, shoved his wife and kids into second or third place, and jumped through every hoop that PT&G’s CEO Chad has put in his way. Jack is the heir apparent and knows it’s just a matter of time until he inherits the corner office. That is, until Chad and the board get an offer from Merchant’s Bank that’s too good to refuse.

The merger changes everything. The new management hands out a rash of pink slips. Jack’s future security morphs into a two-year contract. His worsening performance reviews and a health crisis threaten even that.

Enter Benjamin Franklin Price – the head of a small bank in Roanoke, Virginia. He’s looking to groom a successor. Would Jack be interested in moving from fast-paced Philadelphia to Roanoke?

In A Questionable Life, a first novel by Luke Lively, we follow Jack Oliver as he navigates toward his decision and so much more. In every interaction Price asks him questions that make him look long and hard at his life and rethink everything he has ever valued. Could it be there are things more important than success, prestige, and position? Has he come all this way only to find he has taken the wrong path?

The strength of this book lies in its study of character. In brisk and vivid storytelling, Lively narrates the events of Jack’s life in first person, delving into his thoughts and emotions to make him come alive and feel like a real person. Though the actual events of the story take place within the span of several years, we get familiar with all of Jack’s life through flashbacks. Lively does explore other characters to some extent as well, but we see them through Jack’s eyes only.

People who work in the financial sector will relate to the office politics, emphasis on the bottom line, and the climbing-over-bodies attitude toward getting ahead. The Price character, with his homey wisdom, provides a stark contrast to that modus operandi. He poses a series of questions which make Oliver, and the reader, stop and take stock. Each chapter title is a question (“How Did I Get Here?”… “What is Stopping You?”) and contributes to the theme of the need for life evaluation. Little sayings attributed to Price appear in quotes at the top of each chapter (e.g. “Opportunity knocks only if you’re listening” … “If you only focus on what you want, you will miss out on what you have”). They too add to the theme of living an examined and intentional life.

All in all, I found the book a worthwhile and enjoyable read. Though the frequent flashbacks, especially at the beginning, kept delaying present action, those stories were colorful and full of action themselves. They certainly filled in the blanks as to why Oliver was the way we found him and gave us a context for his growth within the story.

Besides being an entertaining read, I can see this book working as a discussion starter at business and professional development meetings on topics of business practices, ethics, and company culture. Hopefully Lively has more stories about bankers and their milieu up his sleeve.

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About Violet Nesdoly