There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
There are currently few things more sickening than the excesses of the superrich, so a book like The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund, which details ostentatious wealth in an unsubtle grab for the bestseller charts, can be wearying. Jill Kargman’s novel is a fictional look at the world of greedy Wall Street financiers and the conspicuous consumption of their wives and children, but it would be hard to argue that this is a determined sendup of the wealthy. It is far too kind for that. The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund is set in the Upper East Side of 2006, well before the stock market crash of fall 2008, so its characters are immersed in the milieu of obscene wealth and mostly unconscious of the toll their incessant indulgence takes on the rest of us. The exception is narrator Holly Talbott, a stay-at-home mom married to a successful hedge-fund manager who spends a lot of time away from his family, even for someone in finance. Holly thrills in some of her lifestyle’s spoils (such as her husband’s $250,000 gift of a cameo appearance as a dead body on her favorite prime-time TV show), but she is still enough of an outsider to offer acidly illuminating observations on the wealthy Manhattanites with whom she socializes. Describing a child’s birthday, she says: “Corbett’s party wasn’t just a Spiderman theme. No, no, no, no—that would be too easy! Too pedestrian! You see, Mary and her husband called the owner of Marvel to come and do drawings for the boys! And: You guessed it, Tobey Maguire would be ‘stopping by’ for cake…” That sort of display works to make Kargman’s characters largely unsympathetic— even when extramarital affairs and divorce complicate their lives—and also unfunny, no matter how ridiculous and outlandish their antics. A child who whines over a less than perfectly splendiferous private jet isn’t amusing—the little monster deserves regular travel on AirTran. The frivolity of a hedgefund bigwig dropping half a million dollars at an auction so his preschool child can spend 30 minutes with a celebrity is, well, nauseating. Even Holly, who should give the reader some relief from so much gross, soulless spending often offers none. Although she serves up droll charts about “hedgie” mores and wisecracks about the stupendous luxury of those around her, she keeps her lens voyeuristically trained on the money and the many things it buys. Furthermore, the novel’s happy ending, with its reconciliation to the world of wondrous wealth, utterly blunts any criticism of the mega-rich. Still, the story is instructive in this time of shriveling 401Ks and Wall Street incompetence: If ever there was an argument for raising taxes on plutocrats, this novel is unwittingly it. Unfortunately, despite Kargman’s adept use of telling details, the excess that is her subject overwhelms everything else.