three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
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A-Dear MoneyMartha McPhee is the author of Bright Angel Time (1997), L’America (3 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2006), and the National Book Award nominee Gorgeous Lies (2002). A graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program, McPhee was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1998.

The Story: In this modern retelling of Pygmalion, a financially strapped writer gives up her literary ambitions for the power-hungry world of Wall Street in 2004. India Palmer is a 38-year-old novelist whose books earn critical acclaim but little financial payback. With two young daughters in a Manhattan private school and a sculptor husband, Theodor, whose earnings are equally unstable, the family finances are on the brink of disaster. When a wealthy financier comes along and makes a bet--that he can turn her into a wealthy, mortgage-backed securities trader within 18 months--India abandons her writing for the lucrative, addictive, and unstable world of high finance.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 346 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780151011650

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"McPhee tenders a funny, generous piece of social commentary, populated by a cast of characters who are amusingly, painfully human. ... The satire here is subtle, understanding, and, although not as sharply edged as Shaw’s, just as convincing." Joseph Peschel

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[I]t’s a critique of greed, but it also provocatively shows how much fine art piggybacks on big money. ... McPhee has clearly studied traders closely, and Dear Money captures their lingo, bluster, willful ignorance and competitiveness." Mark Athitakis

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The opening section of this tour de force is called ‘I Can’t Keep Up,’ and it’s a pitch-perfect send-up of Gotham’s literary life, its pleasures, its yearnings and its shocking overhead. ... As only fiction can, Dear Money entertains while offering shrewd observations about the financial chaos we’re still trying to comprehend." Elizabeth Fishel

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"That Theodor is ‘fabulously handsome,’ good-humored, hard-working, a brilliant artist and a caring father, and also serene about his wife’s radical career shift--not to mention her solo coddling of clients at golf courses and ski resorts--does more than strain credulity. It robs essential drama from the story." Sylvia Brownrigg

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"McPhee does a competent job of explaining what a bond trader actually does, but the material proves pretty dry. ... McPhee did her homework, but it still feels like homework." Lisa Zeidner

Critical Summary

McPhee was offered training as a real-life bond trader--perhaps the inspiration for Dear Money--but she stuck with fiction. Critics, however, were divided on her latest novel. Most enjoyed the first half, which describes the jaw-dropping cost of raising a family in 21st-century Manhattan. But the second half, with its pedantic detailing of the financial world, proved to be much less entertaining. Several critics were also bothered by secondary characters who were unnaturally good natured (the Washington Post described India’s daughters as "the least demanding children in the history of civilization"). Despite these flaws, most reviewers found Dear Money to be a worth a shot, calling it a "playful, witty, couldn’t-be-more-timely morality tale" (San Francisco Chronicle).