Mezrich mans the conveyor belt at the factory that turns raw reality into its eventual slick cinematic depiction. He works fast. One does not have the sense that those gaps in knowledge ever haunt him as he goes. The events chronicled in his latest book, “The Antisocial Network” — the GameStop short squeeze — occurred in late January of this year; a week later, he had sold the rights for a book proposal to MGM. Of his prodigious output Mezrich has said that he hit “a number of doubles,” but “two home runs”: “Bringing Down the House,” also made into a movie, and “The Accidental Billionaires,” the Facebook origin story that became “The Social Network.” Mezrich says that as he wrote the latter he’d hand off each chapter, oven-warm, to the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. (Sorkin has said that he did not see any of the book until the screenplay was nearly done.)
Like those earlier books, “The Antisocial Network” is an admiring portrait of some nerds’ rapid and unforeseen enrichment. It chronicles the short-lived panic from all angles. Amateur traders, many of whom used the online brokerage Robinhood, rallied together on the Reddit message board “WallStreetBets” to drive up the value of a dusty video game retailer’s stock, vowing to hold onto their GME with “diamond hands,” no matter what. On the other side, traditional Wall Street funds that had made enormous bets against the floundering company scrambled to buy up now-expensive shares of it to cut their losses, shooting the price even higher. One day, Robinhood restricted its users’ ability to buy more of the GME stock, effectively ending the tulip times. Outrage ensued, as did accusations of collusion between the pro-little-guy brokerage and the suits losing money. There were congressional hearings. In Mezrich’s neat retelling, this was war waged between society’s designated winners and “those retail losers on their couches with their Covid checks,” who were “tossing off angry memes.”
The book attributes that sentiment noncommittally to some Wall Streeters, somewhere out there. The Mezrich house style is light on formal quotation: He employs omniscient third-person narratives, rotating chapter by chapter through a stable of characters. These include the clear Goliath figure in the GME story — Gabe Plotkin, the head of Melvin Capital, a hedge fund that lost billions in the squeeze — and the clear David, Keith Gill, the man who successfully evangelized like-minded Reddit users to buy the stock, and whose holdings at one point surpassed $50 million. Plotkin and Gill are pretty much the only two characters in this book who verifiably walk the earth. The other major voices — an anime-loving Duke senior who grew up on a boat, an Obama-then-Trump-voting nurse at a psychiatric hospital the author made up, a pregnant woman whose wedding and lifestyle upgrade were waylaid by the pandemic — appear to be either anonymized or composite characters, stand-ins for the WallStreetBets rabble, motivated alternately by vengeance, fun, desperation, boredom. All these characters can be ventriloquized whenever Mezrich needs to explain a concept in finance; they experience convenient revelations whenever the plot needs advancing.
As such, Mezrich writes as if with total knowledge of all the thoughts, back stories and conversations of his characters — including the ones who actually exist. Could it be that the historically private Plotkin, after perhaps the deepest humiliation of his professional life, rang up the author who once wrote that Mark Zuckerberg ate koala meat on a yacht, and proceeded to recount his life story, right down to a specific car ride he once took to a Red Sox game with his dad? It’s hard to tell what we are supposed to make of any of the facts we “learn” about him or any other figure in the saga, whether we can take them at face value or are better off soaking up the general ambience. One chapter is written from the perspective of, and could be confused with a love letter to, Elon Musk. In it, the billionaire uses a flamethrower to hunt down a rogue A.I. drilling machine and sips a glowing smoothie made with gourds from Mars. While it might have been intended as a zany interlude, it camouflages a little too neatly with the rest of the nakedly made-up stuff in this book.