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This dark, harrowing, and wildly funny novel somehow both challenges and affirms that tried-and-true adage: Money isn’t...

Wright (The Amalgamation Polka, 2006, etc.) holds up a fun-house mirror to our money-obsessed society—and, after a while, the distorted reflection grows uncomfortably close to real life.

It’s one of the oldest and most persistent hypotheticals haunting our collective dream life: Suppose a big bag of money drops from the sky right in front of you and there’s nobody around to claim it. Such is the astonishing, intoxicating situation facing Graveyard, an economically challenged resident of Mammoth City, the grandest metropolis in an alternate-universe America. He and his wife, Ambience, are literally rolling in their fat new pile of fresh dough, unaware that the bag belongs to MisterMenu, a master of the universe inhabiting a luxury penthouse in the 52-story Eyedropper Building with his jaded, aggrieved ex-supermodel wife, MissusMenu, who, in a fit of pique, threw the bag at him and watched it sail “over the parapet” and “into the anonymous city.” As MisterMenu contrives with dark forces to retrieve his lost sack, its seemingly inexhaustible contents are being heedlessly, giddily flung all over town by Graveyard and Ambience. The happy couple begins their spending spree by “refurbish[ing] their dilapidated lives with product purchased almost exclusively in the TooGoodForYou District.” That clause alone exemplifies some of the dry wit served by Wright, whose deconstruction of American myths using page-turning narrative and unsettling imagery was previously displayed in such novels as Going Native (1994). Even as his characters’ indulgence in empty pleasures becomes ickier, riskier, and more life threatening, Wright sustains a vision that comes across like an updated “Thimble Theater” comic strip from the 1930s juiced with the free-wheeling, whacked-out comedy of a vintage 1970s Firesign Theater LP. The book’s unending stream of uproarious faux brand names—such as StandUpAndCheer, DominationDonuts, the Gibe & Cloister 418 firearm, and WalleyedMonks Champagne—doesn’t distract from the ferocious and mostly effective assault on our own world’s obsession with getting, spending, and having, whether it’s sex, drugs, guns, cars, clothes, appliances, or shelter.

This dark, harrowing, and wildly funny novel somehow both challenges and affirms that tried-and-true adage: Money isn’t everything.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-04337-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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