California Literary Review

Present Value – By Sabin Willett

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April 24th, 2007 at 4:21 am

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Present Value
By Sabin Willett
Villard Books 397 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★★☆

If Present Value was being pitched as a film one might describe it as Bonfire of the Vanities meets It’s A Wonderful Life. Sabin Willett has written a very entertaining novel that follows an upper-echelon New England couple and their two children from hubris to humiliation to redemption.

Fritz Brubaker is an easygoing executive with a toy-company, while his wife Linda is a high-powered and richly rewarded attorney for one of Boston’s top firms. Fritz lives for sailing and skiing, while Linda lives to make sure that she never finds herself Out-of-The-Loop or Subject-To-Criticism. Fritz’s company stumbles and he is arrested for insider trading. Linda’s law firm is retained to clean up the mess which results in her two worst fears coming true. Fritz, who had been reevaluating his life and priorities after 9/11, continues to do so as he faces scandal. Meanwhile Linda fights to get Back-In-The-Loop and erase all of the criticism that she just knows must be going on behind her back.

Sabin Willett’s writing style is very similar to Tom Wolfe’s. He has the same interest in status and the comic lengths people will go to maintain it. The latest fashions, the most prestigious communities, the hippest artists, the “in” gadgets are all an integral part of his characters’ lives. The importance of the Blackberry, a wireless e-mail device, in almost every event throughout the book is laugh out loud funny. So how do the two writers compare? What Tom Wolfe had at one time in his career was the heady feeling of leading a revolution in both New Journalism and later in his self-declared role as the new Dickens. The ego he invested in that enterprise, combined with his notable talent, resulted in exhilarating literary riffs that Sabin Willett does not equal. If one book about yuppie lives and values survives beyond our lifetime, it will be Bonfire of the Vanities, not Present Value. But it has been a long time since Bonfire of the Vanities and Tom Wolfe has not written anything since then to get excited about. It’s not a backhanded compliment to say that Sabin Willett is a very good substitute for those of us who have been waiting decades for the old Tom Wolfe to reappear.

Present Value is a hilarious and sometimes angry novel that helps us to better understand who we are, and where our values lie in early 21st century America.

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