The Cost of Doing Business

by John S. Tarlton

Published by Bridge Works Publishing

184 pages, 2001

Buy it online




A Terrible Beauty

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


Here is what I know: The Cost of Doing Business was written long before a national tragedy made everyone introspective. I know this because, despite the October 1st, 2001 publication date, the book arrived on my desk in prepublication form some time during the sleepy summer of 2001. An innocent summer, it turns out, compared to the violent early autumn that would follow it. If I got the book in summer, it means it was written many months ago. Maybe longer. All of this is true. Yet when I began to read and enjoy The Cost of Doing Business in mid-September, I was jolted by a brief section of the book that deals with televised violence and its aftermath: "Yesterday's vapid offerings eclipsed by today's unspeakable crimes."

The crime in question is trivial compared to the events of September 11th -- a bomber has taken over a bank. He has hostages and is demanding a "face-to-face confrontation" with the bank's board of directors. The crime is quite unlike those recently witnessed. What strikes a chord is the tension author John S. Tarlton brings to both the events and their televised viewing. Uncannily -- and impossibly -- some of these passages seem as though they might have come from sitting in front of a television on September 11th. Like this one:

The television cameras pan slowly across the glittering downtown area, the hushed state capitol, the evacuated agencies of government and public welfare, its law courts, its churches, the empty streets and abandoned temples of finance; all powerless now before the specter of one man's passion.

Or this:

After more than five hours since the mid-afternoon takeover, tensions outside the bank building appear to be reaching a climax. T.V. news teams scamper back and forth across lines of barricades, their strained faces, their grim reporting tinged with a terrible beauty.

Later, "alone in my bed," the main character gives the entire incident a very personal and human perspective, as we all must in order to go on.

Was it imperative the authorities bring their entire arsenal of death to bear? Must aggression always be met measure for measure?

Though hardly credible in light of the tragic events surrounding the scene at the bank, I cannot help thinking of my own life-sized enemies .... I can only vow to keep my senses. How to keep conflict from spiraling out of control.

This single scene doesn't begin to describe what The Cost of Doing Business is actually about. However it does capture quite neatly both the ethic and the craft of the author in question. Clearly, Tarlton has not only a good understanding of the workings of the human heart, he has the ability to share his findings with his readers quite vividly.

The Cost of Doing Business is narrated by Diane Morris, a 33-year-old woman working in the male-dominated Louisiana oil business negotiating land leases for a major oil company. Diane shares her life with her son and her recently widowed father. Her "life-sized" enemies are a ne'er do well ex-husband and an overbearing rural land baron determined to claim his neighbor's oil rights as his own.

Diane is a modern woman working in today's world, but her trials and tribulations are classic and very real. The way she handles them -- and her life -- occasionally approach the heroic.

The Cost of Doing Business follows Louisiana native Tarlton's widely praised 1999 debut novel, A Window Facing West. | September 2001


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.