diaTribe Review: Pomerantz's "Rich Boy" is Entertaining Debut, But Nothing Nouveau

Ah, yes…The American Dream.
You read stories about it all of the time: Someone going from rags-to-riches, by winning the lottery, inheriting a large sum, or, my personal favorite, prostituting yourself out like Richard Gere did, in Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo.” Now, if the latter isn’t the American dream, I don’t know what is.
I kid, I kid.
That being said, the rags-to-riches story is definitely a time-worn tale.
And that, boys and girls, can definitely have its pluses and minuses.
Which leads me to Sharon Pomerantz’s debut novel, “Rich Boy,” (Twelve: August 2, 2010 release; priced around $17), which Twelve publishing company was generous enough to provide a copy of.
Pomerantz’s book begins in ‘50s Philadelphia, where we’re introduced to our “protagonist,” if you can really call him that (we’ll get to that later), Robert Vishniak, a young, ambitious, handsome man that comes from a blue collar Jewish family. From there, we are led on a journey of his own self-invention, where he goes from dirt-poor to amazingly wealthy; all the while, making friends and adversaries, as well as those from his working-class past that threaten to knock him of his pedestal of comfort.
You’ve seen or read this story all before, folks. There’s nothing new here; especially when you have such a familiar cast of characters.
There’s Robert’s family, consisting of a nagging, money grubbing mother, a stoic but dignified father, and the neglected younger son, who never got the attention he desired; namely, the same kind of affection big brother Robert received growing up.
Next up, there’s the stock blend of colorful college friends, all of whom Robert tries to ingratiate himself with. The most well-rounded character of this lot is Trace, who harbors a deep, dark (and completely predictable! No seriously! If you can’t guess what he’s hiding, then you have never read a novel before and I hope you never spawn children, as they’ll probably be as poorly-versed and/or illiterate as you) secret. The rest of the college cast is your usual testosterone-drenched, libido-crazed horn dogs, cruising for loose women and new conquests.
From college, Robert goes on to marry up, into a rich family, the complete antithesis of his own; all the while, climbing up the social latter, and finding success—that is, until a skeleton from the past threatens to…yada, yada, yada.
You can pretty much see where this goes.
That’s not to say the book isn’t entertaining as hell. I mean, yeah, it’s completely derivative of books, similar in theme (anyone hear of a little-known author named F. Scott Fitzgerald? Nah. Me neither.) that came before it, but it’s still a fast read. In fact, it’s a total page-turner. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next—even if I already had an idea. Long story short: It’s just fun.
Though, I wish the author hadn’t made some of the characters so shrill. Coming from a book by a female author, I was surprised that almost every woman is written out to be sluts, coy sluts, or the financial equivalent of a hungry, hungry hippo.
And the central character is something of a cad himself, constantly going from one sexual rendezvous to another (the book, I’ll admit, is, at times shockingly frank in its sexuality, drenched with eroticism). It’s hard to root for a dude who is such a man-whore, as well as being a devious social climber. If the author had made him just a tad more sympathetic, I might not have as many qualms, as I do, with Robert Vishniak.
However, for such a lengthy novel, it never failed to hold my attention.
It’s a good book, and I do think that a lot of people will find the main character charming, even likable, much like the book itself.
But be warned, if you think that you’re going to find anything new here, you’re in for a disappointment. Just go into it with the intention that you’re reading a novel that has been written—and rewritten—many a time before.
It may be called “Rich Boy,” but under no circumstances, could you call it nouveau riche.