At 528 pages, Rich Boy is a Space Age version of a Victorian family saga, with the great difference being that the family is not upper-class English but Philadelphia Jewish. Perhaps it is more apt to call this novel an inflated Great Gatsby, with Robert Vishniak climbing the socio-capitalist ladder all the way up and into the Bernie Madoff Manhattan era. Sharon Pomerantz is no Fitzgerald, nor is she a Dickens, but devoted readers of lengthy novels tend not to quibble.
The family expects favored son Robert to escape from their poor neighborhood and use his considerable charm and intelligence to move through prestigious New England schools into a room at the top, where he will hold his own with other Reagan-era financial wizards. Pomerantz takes Robert through success in Wall Street buildings to the point when “the lobby looked like the cleanest of ghost towns.”
Inherent in all such high flights out of the slums is the problem of how to shuffle off the early self. There is always the chance one will happen to meet again the girl one left behind, the person who will reawaken the old self that did not especially want to pursue the rich and famous version of the American Dream. That’s what happens to Robert, who comes to see just how rich he was as a poor Jewish boy: “And for a moment, a strange and wonderful moment, Robert Vishniak knew where he belonged.”
Readers will enjoy this journey through the labyrinth of episodes of class conflicts, sexual escapades, financial schemes and, of course, romantic love that Pomerantz spent a decade constructing. Her publisher, Twelve, offers only 12 books each year, and they considered Rich Boy special enough to choose it as this year’s only novel. It is not to be missed.