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The GoodLife Hardcover – October 11, 1999
The Amazon Book Review
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From Publishers Weekly
An ordinary middle-aged New Jersey man, heavily in debt and sick of merely dreaming of wealth, cooks up a doomed kidnapping plot in Scribner's provocative first novel, an astute and detailed comment on the American Dream's criminal edge. The narrative traces one hellish weekend in the life of a loving but deluded family, the Wolkoviaks. After the failure of yet another harebrained entrepreneurial scheme, Theo, a chronic screwup, has moved his wife, Colleen, and their whip-smart, anorexic teen daughter, Tiffany, back into the family home with his dad, Malcolm, a retired cop dying from emphysema, and saintly mom. Unbeknownst to Malcolm, who worries endlessly over Theo's future, Theo has cooked up a crazy plan to kidnap Stona Brown, the head of Petrochem (the company that fired Theo before he started his latest doomed business), who lives close by. Coercing Colleen into helping him, Theo plots to keep his victim in a homemade plywood box in a storage locker, and plans to demand an $18-million ransom. But the kidnapping goes wrong from the beginning. Theo accidentally shoots Brown before locking him in the box and neglects to recognize his captive's worsening condition as several days go by. Colleen unravels as the consequences of their act dawn on her, and when Brown dies, she turns on Theo. Meanwhile, Malcolm's stubborn love for his arrogant, incompetent son is heartbreaking, yet his dormant professional instincts slowly waken, and he unwillingly but doggedly leads the investigators, whom he's known for decades, to his own home, and his family's ruin. Scribner based his book on the actual 1992 kidnapping of an Exxon executive in New Jersey, incorporating an effective warning about the narcotic effect of materialism: Theo's enterprises foster his pathetic but unshakable self-confidence, and Colleen dreams of achieving world-class status as a Goodlife products sales rep. Theo and Colleen ring true in their myopic delusions of grandeur, as Scribner perceptively skewers their self-deception, but his talents are most potently displayed in the sensitive portrayals of auxiliary characters like the lovable, wisecracking Tiffany and her conscientious grandpa Malcolm. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This is a riveting, psychologically sophisticated first novel, based on the actual kidnapping of an Exxon executive in 1992, by an improbable pair of criminalsAa middle-aged, suburban husband and wife who had fallen deeply into debt. The kidnappers, Theo and Colleen Wolkoviak, are skillfully drawn, and they bungle their way to disaster through a mixture of bad judgment, monstrous self-absorption, and a thoroughly misplaced sense of entitlement. Theo is blustery, given to self-aggrandizement, and thoroughly unlikable. Colleen is a willing participant in the crime, but she grows increasingly anxious as complications arise. The story is told from several different points of view, which heightens the tension of the story considerably as we move from Theo, to Colleen, to their victim, who struggles mightily in his captivity with doubts about the women he has loved, the life he has led, and the choices he has made. Recommended for all public libraries.APatrick Sullivan, Manchester Community-Technical Coll., CT
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
"The Good Life" is based on a New Jersey kidnapping case from the 1990s, in which a middle aged couple, in a stunning and tremendously incompetent caper, kidapped a highly placed executive at a Fortune 500 firm. It was a cautionary tale of the times, pitting the disappointment and rage of those in American society whose dreams far outstripped their talents, against the smugness and arrogance of those the system rewards.
In Scribner's novel, Theo and Coleen Wolkoviak's lives have evolved into a catalogue of failures. They're unemployed, overdrawn, and living with his father, realizing all the time that they are aging into irrelevance at forty five. The one thing neither of them ever seems short on is fantasy. They've applied their talent for hyperbole and outright fabrication to a great variety of entreprenurial efforts, all to the end of achieving the things that are owed to them. What they "deserve."
Stona Brown is everything they aspire to be. He has arrived in his career, in his marriage, in his own self image. His arrogance knows no bounds, and the sureness of his life, wealth and principles is inviolate. Until one day when his wife spies a strange woman in a pink jogging suit skulking around the foot of the driveway at an odd hour. The ordeal that follows becomes a battle for Stona Brown's life and soul.
The book is a real page turner. Some of the characterizations and language seem stilted and unreal, but as the book unfolds it seems that this is a canny calculation on the author's part--his characters are as bankrupt and empty as the language they think in. Scribner does a great job of buttressing his social exmamination by adopting a writing style which blends right into the lives and the environments he's describing.
Whether or not a reader is familiar with the case on which "A Good Life" is based, it will leave one with a new sense of what is valuable.