How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill Bantam, HK$214 Michael Gates Gill, son of The New Yorker's Brendan Gill, may just be the literary figurehead for the new First World vogue for neo-Augustinian piety. There have been indications that such a genre was gestating, such as Barbara Ehrenreich's brilliant expose of unskilled labour conditions, the best-selling Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, but Starbucks will be remembered as the lodestar: the tale of how a rich, white, successful, Yale-educated sexagenarian opted for menial labour over involuntary retirement, golf, and death. Universal Pictures took an option on Starbucks in proposal form; Gus Van Sant and Tom Hanks are pencilled in as director and lead actor respectively. Their enthusiasm is easy to understand. The memoir's premise is revolutionary: what happens when the complacent scion of a patriarchal elite rejects, in the flower of his post-tumescent panic, every social expectation? When a former executive vice-president for advertising giant J. Walter Thompson dons an apron to serve coffee under the tutelage of a young black woman? In every respect other than literary - the neophyte Gill is a sincere but mediocre stylist - Starbucks is a courageous memoir, and loud in its advocacy of conscious reincarnation, if within the confines of a single life. The narrative compels. After 25 years at the heart of the establishment, Gill is sacked. He struggles with a consultancy business and fails, does not cope well with leisure or with the sudden avalanche of exposure to his wife, and has an affair with a professor of psychiatry who claims to be infertile. Predictably, this extramarital union produces an issue - Jonathan - and Gill's wife files for divorce. His four adult children side with their mother. The professor decides he is boring as both man and lover. Gill is then diagnosed with a 'small' brain tumour. Shipwrecked, he finally begins to examine his life. 'I flew many hundreds of thousands of miles to spend time with my clients,' he writes, 'and hardly saw my children. My clients became my children, and my children grew up without me ... Like many men of my generation accepting the role of 'breadwinner', I rationalised my devotion to work and trust in [corporate life].' He remembers his privileged youth in New York City, and the African-American woman who changed him. 'My parents always seemed to be going out to cocktail parties and dinners,' he writes. 'I was a lonely little boy. As usual, they were not home when I returned on the bus from Buckley School, but there was Nana, as always, waiting for me with arms outstretched and a big smile on her face. I rushed into her commodious bosom. This old woman ... was the love of my young life ... I spent all of my time with her in the warm and delicious-smelling basement kitchen ... I had buck teeth and big ears, but Nana said, 'You are a handsome boy'.' Like Gill, Nana was sacked because of her age. It is only when he finds himself in Starbucks nursing a latte he can no longer comfortably afford that he suddenly feels 'the hole in [his] heart' for a woman he hasn't seen for almost 60 years. Which is why, when a young black female Starbucks employee asks if he wants a job - unwittingly, Gill has stumbled into an open hiring situation - he immediately trusts her and replies yes. Through the performance of tasks such as toilet-cleaning, Gill realises the only real love of his adult life is his status in the eyes of other men. He does not completely succeed in making amends with his family, but does succeed in - finally - being true to himself. 'Since birth I had been placed on an upward escalator reserved for those few affluent, properly educated, well-spoken and well-dressed peers who would never stop ascending and no one seemed to have been able to help me or even really notice my great distress and basic needs.' Unexpectedly affecting, Starbucks speaks not only for a generation of obsolete professionals but also for those who no longer believe they have anything to offer the world.