Three Dollars, by Eliot Perlman, starts off clever, ironic, and a little depressing. Perlman’s writing continues to be clever throughout, but as the story continues this very good book just gets more and more depressing.
Amazon tells me it is a “deft, passionate portrait of a man coming to terms with his place in an increasingly hostile and corporate world, while struggling to retain his humanity, his heart, and his sense of humor.”
Eddie, the main character, starts telling his story from high school as he and his girlfriend, Tanya, are preparing for college. Though the two are over-the-top ironic pretentious pre-hipster-age hipsters, I have to admit that I kind of identified with them. Smart kids, heading to college, with all this potential but no idea what to do with themselves reeks of 21st century WPP. "Whatever we chose to study at university and however intensely we studied it, we would still be the same middle class, socially-concerned, politically-inactive, foreign-film going wine and cheese tasters."
This book is worth the read, if only for Perlman’s writing. He’s great at really capturing things in a heartbreakingly amusing way. (I tried to google some example quotes, but am failing…so you’ll just have to trust me on this.)
Like Freedom, Three Dollars is very post-modern and liberal-leaning. It takes place in Australia -- a country whose politics I know absolutely nothing about – but the themes of materialism and environmental degradation and the rise and fall of the middle class are all there. Towards the end Eddie philosophizes a bit too much, which can feel tedious.
Though the book is depressing, I think that Perlman is actually an optimist. He chooses to focus on the good in individuals (while vilifying corporate and government structures), and his characters are all likable. Random acts of kindness seem to be his thing – Eddie meets an alcoholic and helps him with his dog, and later the alcoholic helps Eddie when he is in need.
I just hope real life isn’t as much of a bummer as Perlman makes it out to be…
A movie of the book was released in 2005 to pretty good reviews.
Perlman is more famous for his second book, Seven Types of Ambiguity.