Sharon Pomerantz’s debut novel, Rich Boy, was published by a company called Twelve, which values books so much it only puts out one a month and really lovingly delivers that selection to the world. For that reason alone, I wanted to love this book. Unfortunately, I could only really like this book. Robert Vishniak, Rich Boy’s titular character, wants money and lots of it. He’s not greedy and evil, you see: Robert just grew up in a Philadelphia middle-class-verging-on-poor family, with a mother who pinched and scraped and always felt like they were on the verge of starvation, and a father who worked his fingers to the bone. The narrative follows Robert through a scrappy youth with his younger brother and then to college, where his rich roommate introduces him to the finer things in life. We then watch him post-college, where he pursues real-estate law and ends up marrying the partner’s daughter, all the while threading in and out of this world of prosperity in which he never truly feels at home. This sprawling book (at 528 pages) strives for epic: covering five decades, through the drugs of the ’60s, to the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s, ending in the financial troubles of late. But it only achieves a really good tale. My biggest complaint was not the story, which was involving, nor the characters, who were all richly drawn, but that Robert, movie-star handsome and sensitive to boot, never felt like a real person. Perhaps it’s the byproduct of a female author inhabiting a male protagonist, but I never felt that Robert was genuinely male; he often thought about things and acted on them in a way that seemed distinctly female. Let’s hope that next time, Twelve’s selection achieves greatness; for this month, though, pretty good will have to do.
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