Money people are easily torn
Three families struggle to have 'enough' while really wanting everything
(Page 2 of 2)
And then these two men find themselves struck by a crisis of an entirely different order: Their children are implicated in a deadly traffic accident. Unknown to either of them, Drew's daughter is no longer dating Quint's son. Instead, she's fallen in love with an earnest young man on parole who's living with his uncle, a limo driver who wants more than to ferry the wealthy between deals.Skip to next paragraph
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There's a hard-edged glibness that creeps into this narrative now and then, but it can't spoil the effect of Amidon's deep sympathy. The key to his success - besides a very clever plot - is a collection of characters who approach but defy the easy clichés of class.
Quint turns out not to be the cutthroat wheeler-dealer he's rumored to be. Instead, he's a man inflexibly devoted to rectitude and discipline, qualities that make him as good at spotting inefficiencies in international markets as he is at critiquing his frustrated son. And while this young prince is just as spoiled as you'd expect, beneath the bravado and the alcohol, there's a frightened, nervous boy trying to construct his character from the consumerist ideals around him.
Even Quint's wife, the subject of jealous gossip among the other wives at the shiny Country Day prep school, isn't really - or isn't just - the shallow, presumptuous woman she appears to be. She weathers bouts of crippling shame, delivering some of the novel's best lines about her haute couture culture.
"Cactus mango," she says to herself one night in disbelief. "She wondered what was next. Fish gill chutney. Badger gland smoothies. Soon the human mind would run out of products to invent and that would be the end of time. No heavenly fire or galloping horsemen; no mushroom clouds or incurable plagues. Just a terrible realization that there was no longer anything new in the shops."
Amidon has a keen eye for the distinctive details of upper, middle, and lower-class life, but he's even more insightful about the commonality among these people: Money anxieties gnaw at them all, no matter what their tax bracket, and teenagers baffle them equally. As legal and financial disasters threaten to destroy each of these families, they're tested in ways that sound the true metal of their characters, rich or poor.
Yes, deep pockets enable a different kind of response, the ability to afford a far more effective defense, but in this convergence of devotion, accident, and sin that finally draws them together, money doesn't save these people, any more than lacking it ruins them. That destiny is determined entirely by the moral calculus each of them works out in the moments when what they love most is threatened. Even the coolest reader won't be able to resist racing through this novel, wondering, "What if I were him? What if I were her? What would I do?"
• Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor. Send comments to Ron Charles.