WINDFALL by James Magnuson


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Think you’d like to stumble over seven million dollars? Think again. The money, in used fifty-dollar bills, is packed into the eight ice chests that Ben Lindberg finds in a vacant neighboring feedstore while he’s looking for the family cat. Since Ben, a struggling assistant professor at the University of Texas, and his wife Katy have never stopped worrying about money for all the years they’ve been married (long enough to have two teenagers), you might think the sequel would be obvious. But Ben, finally yielding to the temptation to pack the ice chests into the family van and drive away but convinced Katy would just make him turn the money over to the law, decides to keep his good fortune a secret. The secret is so burdensome that Ben might as well be keeping a mistress. Meantime, it’s not so easy to convert all that ready cash into the good life either. Ben can’t deposit such a huge sum into a bank, or pay cash (especially those telltale fifties) for anything much under $50, or much over either. In desperation, he accepts his student Dan Sweeney’s offer to launder the money through his music club, then has to face all the problems his unwilling partnership with Sweeney raises: suspicion of Sweeney, of Sweeney’s bountiful girlfriend Rebecca, of a street person who lashes out at him, of the cops who must by now be following the money. Magnuson (Ghost Dancing, 1989, etc.) is best at showing how every new person Ben reaches out to for help becomes just another potential threat. He’s less successful in fleshing out his Everyman characters, in tracing the corrupting effects of big money and big secrets (by comparison, Magnuson’s obvious model, Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan, reads like Sophocles), and in winding up the whole story (think bad guys out for blood or money; think menaced family; think unlikely action hero). Despite the waist-high clichÇs of plot and phrase, though, there’s no denying the page-turning pull of Magnuson’s irresistible premise or its inexorable progress. (First printing of 75,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-50210-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998


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