The Rich Part of Life by Jim Kokoris

Fairly certain that everyone has a ‘what would I do if I won the lottery’ list. Sometimes it’s multiple lists, adjusted by the size of the prize. I have such a list, which is interesting given that I don’t buy lottery tickets. My list is –

  1. Hire an island and take all my friends on a beach holiday.
  2. Take a world trip that includes Iceland, the Bahamas and the Maldives.
  3. Choose some charities that a big contribution would make a massive difference to (I already have some that are close to my heart).
  4. Buy a seaside shack in the place where I spend summer (McCrae) – nothing fancy because there will always be sand on the floor.

Given the existence of these lists, it’s intriguing when lotteries go unclaimed (as happened in Melbourne this week) – and this is the topic of Jim Kokoris’s novel, The Rich Part of Life.

Teddy’s mother was killed in a car accident, leaving him, his younger brother and their father, Theo. Theo is an eccentric Civil War professor, whose grief is crippling.

I couldn’t count on him for much. He frequently got lost when he drove, misplaced his wallet and keys almost daily, and drifted off in the middle of most conversations.

Theo enters a lottery using his wife’s old numbers, and wins $190 million. He is slow to claim the prize and when he does, the family’s life changes in unexpected ways. Despite Teddy’s wishlist (a ranch, new bikes and a big television), Theo seemingly has no interest in spending the money. Naturally, other people do. Theo’s elderly aunt and his brother, Frank, move in and various acquaintances and neighbours are suddenly very friendly. Teddy begins to understand that to be ‘rich’ means many things.

The broad concept for this story is appealing, and presents questions such as how money changes people, and whether some are more ‘deserving’ of a windfall than others. The exploration of the eternal question – can money buy happiness, or in this case ameliorate grief – is a little too obviously executed given the family’s situation but nevertheless was interesting. Notably, while people avoided the family in their grief, they clamoured to be near in their prosperity.

My problem with the story was that it became cluttered with characters, each trying to stake their claim and each with obvious motivations. Furthermore, these additional characters were all a little odd – the ex-beauty-queen, the washed-up actor who only played vampires; a motherless baby; a worldly football player-turned-bodyguard, and so on. As the story became increasingly ‘busy’, the delicately explored relationship between Teddy and Theo was lost, and any reflections on grief that Kokoris could provide from Teddy’s perspective were drowned in the noise – a shame given that Teddy’s voice was perceptive and real.

2/5 Overdone.

…she went back to slurping her soup, an indulgence she allowed herself when my father wasn’t around. He once quietly had told her that people, other than himself, might find slurping soup pedestrian. I don’t know what to do,” she said after an especially pedestrian slurp.
“About Uncle Frank?”
“No, your brother. He needs to see a psychiatrist. He has problems. We have to nip them in the bud or else he’ll grow up deranged.”
“What’s deranged mean again?”
She began to explain but change her mind, waving her hand at me. “It’s not good,” she said. “Just finish your soup.”

And because everything’s better with bacon, try this pumpkin and bacon soup.

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 3): Belfast 9°-24° and Melbourne 6°-15°.


7 responses

  1. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer (except that it’s Winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  2. It’s an interesting idea but I think because its the sort of thing everyone has considered & makes lists for whether we play or not, it has to be really well done. I do like pumpkin & bacon soup though!

  3. Interesting concept in that book. I have a simple — and boring — list for if I won the lottery… to do whatever is needed to feel secure in retirement. But that is because I am nearing retirement and live in an expensive area.

  4. I do but a weekly lotto ticket. Sometimes I win $13.47, mostly I don’t but it’s still $23 well spent. My list is topped by republish all Miles Franklin, but my big worry is whether I should tell the kids – they’re doing ok and I don’t think being wealthy would do them any good at all

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