Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Read This Book #3

Desperate for a new book to read, I bought this novel by Martha McPhee, thinking: I wonder if she's the daughter of the famous writer, John McPhee, which indeed she is. Clearly, literary talent runs strongly in the family.

Though some reviews call this book a Pygmalion story, a social satire, or even a “morality tale of the early 21st century greed and fall,” I found it quite simply a captivating read. The basic plot line revolves around India Palmer, a well-published but cash-strapped novelist living in New York City with her artist husband, Theodor, and their two children. When she finds herself living far beyond their means and trying to keep up with the “Joneses,” she meets, at a cocktail party, Win Johns, a Wall Street millionaire who makes a bet with her that if she’s willing to give it a go on Wall Street, he’ll make her a “world-class bond trader” within eighteen months. What follows—her resistance gradually corroded by her desperate desire (and need) for money—is oddly gripping. Will she make it? you ask yourself. And if she does, at what cost?

Favorite Line:

“At Bergdorf’s, I bought a new dress, a rich brown macramé for fall. The price: $775. A tax deduction, I thought. I just had to have it to wear to my book party. I shared my strategy with Lily, and we both laughed about the deduction. ‘An absolute expense,’ she said. 'I’ll serve as witness if the IRS comes after you. Kind sirs, she only wore it that once. She had to look like a million bucks, otherwise who’d buy her book?’”


Surprisingly original “good guy- bad guy” characters, such as Lily Starr, her long time writer friend who makes it big and flaunts it in her face, and Snake, a young cut-throat bond trader from Calcutta who befriends her; a hamburger eating contest that will make you nearly vomit; an inside look at what exactly happens on Wall Street and how it works (I found this fascinating).

Bottom Line:

A great story about art versus corporate America right before the banking bubble is about to burst. Gripping, sly, funny, and thought-provoking. Also, I was surprised by how fervently I (a writer) found myself rooting for her to succeed on Wall Street.