52 Stories #23: “The Go-Getter” by Peter B. Kyne

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[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

Happy Wednesday, friends! Today’s #52Stories selection is actually a novella published back in 1921 that was recommended to me by my old pal Cory Robinson on Facebook. Was I sufficiently motivated by this inspiring tale? Let’s find out!

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The Pitch

A highly-motivated war veteran pursues a job in a rival corporation and faces unusual challenges to win his would-be CEO’s approval.

The Payoff

This novella is what you might classify as “fict-spirational” or, more plainly, didactic writing: a story that is meant to teach a specific lesson. The Go-Getter was around 60 pages long, in the edition I read, with another 25+ pages of commentary by the author on the various lessons the reader should take away. It was a quick read, rather plain and obvious in parts, but pleasant enough. I’m not sorry I read it, but it didn’t make much of an impact.

The Takeaways

So, what can we learn from Peter Kyne’s early-twentieth-century fable? Let’s find out:

  • The basic plot of the story can be boiled down to this: Cappy Ricks, the CEO of a multi-national lumber corporation, is discussing with his 2 trusted lieutenants his concerns about the head of their division in Shanghai, when a bright young man asks to see him. This salesman, Bill Peck, is a veteran of the Great War with physical disabilities resulting from combat, but his can-do attitude and refusal to take no for an answer impress Ricks, who decides to give him a job. He instructs his division head to give Peck the “skunk lumber” accounts, as a challenge to see if Peck is all talk or if he can follow-through. Once Peck bests those challenges, Ricks gives him one final challenge to test his mettle. The climax of the book is Peck’s frantic and somewhat humorous efforts to complete this impossible task–but at this point in the story, the ending is all but guaranteed.
  • It doesn’t take a graduate degree in English to pick up on the types and stock figures with which Kyne populates this story: the untrustworthy steward, the faithful follower with no confidence or initiative, the bitter middle manager, and of course our protagonist, the go-getter, Mr. Self-Motivated and Results-Oriented. The twenty-page recap of the lessons learned seems pretty unnecessary, but I wonder if part of my cynicism is that there have been an avalanche of business and productivity books written in the last 100 years, such that so much of this feels like old hat? Is this my chronological snobbery at work?
  • I guess the real question is, does it motivate the reader? And the answer is…sure? Maybe I’m not in the right reader for this type of motivational literature, though it’s funny that I have of late found myself drawn to books about self-improvement, productivity, and business/marketing skills. This one felt a bit hokey to me, but I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment. I think my problem is that this story was very paint-by-numbers, and from the moment Bill Peck walks in the door, you know he’ll end up with the Shanghai manager job. The ordeal of the Blue Vase was an entertaining, if circuitous, way of getting there, but it was no surprise at all when Ricks explains himself to Peck.
  • Maybe that’s the problem. The story was too obvious for its length. The Blue Vase adventure felt like a foregone conclusion. If there were a way to cut down on some of the unnecessary dialogue, or perhaps introduce different challenges for Peck to overcome, it wouldn’t have felt so rote. Also, Peck was too perfect of a protagonist to be a role model.

In the final summation, I think The Go-Getter is clearly a book of its era that suffers by comparison to other short stories as well as other inspirational business texts. Perhaps it should get more credit for being an early example of the genre, but that doesn’t save a straight-forward and predictable story from being much more than window dressing for the author’s moral lessons. It wasn’t a bad book, so I wouldn’t dissuade you from reading it. I’d just caution not to expect too much from it.

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Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

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