Dear Money
Martha McPhee
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Buy *Dear Money* by Martha McPhee online

Dear Money
Martha McPhee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
352 pages
June 2010
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In prose that is sometimes lovely and evocative, other times giddy and sentimental, McPhee’s charming novel offers an unusual take on the fate of those who have money and those who desire it. Plunging us into the world of mortgaged-backed securities, the author’s focus is on forty-something Manhattan mother India Palmer as she steadily transforms from a struggling novelist into a hotshot Wall Street trader, ultimately becoming a high-stakes risk-taker and a purveyor of billions of dollars.

When we first meet her, India is desperate to keep afloat her lifestyle of babysitters, private schools and dinner parties. In this elite New York world, success undoubtedly equals money despite the desperate hope to so much of India’s existence. While India’s husband, Theodor, a struggling sculptor, ekes out a livelihood on irregular commissions, it’s pretty obvious their economic trajectory is on a downward slide as they struggle to survive in their rent-controlled upper Westside apartment,e juggling their revolving credit card debt and their flimsy reliance on “indefatigable hope.”

India’s best friends are the Chapmans. Will Chapman rakes in money on Wall Street while his wife, Emma, is a stay-at-home mother. A smooth talker with charming green eyes atwinkle with optimism, Will invites India and Theodor for a weekend at their new house on Pond Point in Maine. India can’t help but admire the Chapmans well-appointed world, so much more beautiful to look upon than India’s “starving elitist set” amid the shambles of her “riotous, debt-ridden mess of a life.”

Then comes the proposition from Will’s friend Win Johns, boldly determined to make India into a mortgage trader at Bond and Bond Brothers. Initially arriving in Pond Point on a biplane wearing goggles and black combat boots, oozing wealthy bravado, Win’s easy jocularity entices India. In an afternoon of flowing champagne and talk of derivatives, yield curves and investment opportunities, India decides to give Will’s offer shot, the two forming a vibrant and special connection.

McPhee boisterously charts her protagonist’s growth with gusto and perseverance as India enters the fast dance of financial seduction and speculation. Thrust by Win and his boss, Ralf Radalpieno ( the architect of the scheme who sits four floors above her), the engines of commerce hum. India learns how mortgages are packaged and lumped into the vast money mill of power and influence where money, though invisible, is in constant motion.

Although the descriptions of the more technical aspects of bond trading are a bit dry, the author expertly encapsulates the boyish camaraderie, the long hours, the tense stand-offs and the sense of infinite financial possibility that characterized much of the past decade. What starts out as a lark soon becomes days filled with screens of endless green lines and gibberish. Still, McPhee’s novel is always rich with her heroine’s hopes and dreams. We watch, unable to look away, as India reinvents herself as one the “uber-boys” who, with their perfect rationality, show their colleague that the game of trading is just one "heady drug."

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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