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Home » Culture and Criticism

Too Much Money

Submitted by on March 27, 2012 – 5:07 PMOne Comment

Doddsie, who put propriety above everything else, had never forgotten nor forgiven Elias Renthal’s reverberating fart on his exit from the Butterfield nearly eight years earlier, after he had been kicked out of the hallowed establishment by Laurance Van Degan, Lil Altemus’s brother, whose reputation in the financial world Elias had sullied. (190)

You know: those people.

Dominick Dunne’s Too Much Money is obviously terrible, and also really fantastic, just like his Vanity Fair columns back in the day. The plot is taken so directly from real life, it’s a wonder he bothered to change the names, and as usual, Dunne makes an appearance as “Gus Bailey,” his (barely) alter(ed) ego, mired in a slander lawsuit over his remarks about (totally not) Gary Condit and concerned that (definitely not) Lily Safra is having him followed by Mossad agents. The other subplots involve the customary thinly disguised cast of over-financed and under-employed characters, who have nothing to do but remarry, buy neckties, go to or give luncheons where the flowers cost forty thousand dollars, and bite one another’s backs — and, as in Dunne’s non-fiction writing, the prose does little to distinguish, well, anything, starting with itself. Paragraphs frequently devolve into the novelistic equivalent of catalog captions (for the number of mentions their men’s livery gets, Turnbull & Asser presumably paid Dunne’s entire advance); incidents and appositives get repeated so often, the reader might wonder if it’s a send-up:

[Elias Renthal] loathed Gus. He was still livid that Gus had put on a television show about Elias’s case just at the time Elias was getting ready to leave prison, bringing the whole thing up again, after most people had forgotten about it after Elias’s seven years of incarceration, or so Elias liked to believe. (182-3)

Yes, we know Renthal is livid about that — because Dunne mentions it as an aside in almost every scene in which Renthal and Gus Bailey share a room. Maybe he’d be less livid if the author trusted us to remember a descriptor he’s already used 163 times? It’s so consistent and so stilted that, for the first hundred pages, it seemed almost intentional; it reminded me of the way Homer began so many chapters of The Odyssey with “rosy-fingered Dawn,” or Angela Chase calling Jordan Catalano “Jordan Catalano.” But those references were overtaken by a déjà vu, a memory of Bret Easton Ellis having to explain that the label-whore mix-tape chapters of American Psycho were a parody.

But I also remember thinking that Ellis needn’t have bothered — that the affectless shallowness was fascinating on its own merits, and didn’t have to comment on anything. Dunne’s writing was compelling, if not exactly “good,” in a similar way; his unironic attention to fabrics and flowers and the relative standing of second wives let him turn sticky gossip, unimportant/self-important one-percenter probz, into ripping yarns. Did we need to know that much about Lily Safra, any of us working folk? Of course not. But it’s kind of amazing that Dunne could make us care, to an extent, and that Dunne used Too Much Money to put a beyond-the-grave thumb in her eye.

The book is a super-fast read, soapy and snarky and populated by characters who, incredibly, use words like “miffed” and “besotted” in conversation with their servants. The dependably self-aggrandizing and clonky prose is helped by the fact that the prose is not even a little bit of the point, and you have to respect Dunne for “doing him” until the end. If nothing else, an evening with Too Much Money will fill you with relief — that you have too little money to care about the social sorrows of the super-rich.



One Comment »

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Well, really, if I can’t use words like “besotted” and miffed while conversing with the au pair, what’s the point of being rich? Once you can afford health care and retirement, money’s just an avatar.

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