Class and wealth dominate the pages of the novel Rich Boy, and the reader is cognizant that it is a primary concern for the protagonist, Robert Vishniak, as he aspires to gain favors that will allow him to move up in the societal stratum.
Vishniak is from a working class Jewish family who live in Philadelphia. He is self-indulgent, and with his handsomeness, charm, and superficial exterior. His mother, Stacia has continually hammered into him the fact that he needs to make money in order to become a respected person, and in order to move up in society’s ladder.
He is constantly embarrassed by his mother, and her old school ways and train of thought. Yet, those words do prove helpful to him in his quest for success and identity in a world where money and financial gain speak volumes. He works at odd jobs, and drives a cab to earn money in order to make his way through college. Nothing is too menial for him.
Vishniak manages to forge his way into the upper end of the social echelon. This occurs during his time at university where meets others who come from respectable upper class families, families whose wealth can buy them anything, and families whose American roots are firmly planted in the ancestral realm.
He is quick with the verbalizing, and fast with the conveyance of a charming attitude. One of his fall backs is the fact that he doesn’t exhibit the manners befitting those who belong to the upper class circle. His roommate at college teaches him the proper etiquette to be used in varied situations. From there he is presented with new opportunities.
He has several superficial relationships, some that end due to his immaturity. He is good at seduction, to his own undoing. He falls for a young woman with angelic charm, and a woman who he doesn’t truly know, emotionally. His feelings stem from the external appearance she presents to him. The fact that he can not see what is occurring before his eyes is what coats this relationship with doom (I won’t go into the circumstances, as it will spoil it for you). He does marry, eventually, to a woman of great wealth, and a woman whose father has dictated her every move, financially. He is hired to work for his father-in-law’s law firm, where he literally begins to work from the bottom up.
Some of Vishniak’s success has depended on interactions with others, yet, most of it is due to his own resources, endeavors and capabilities. He is a quick learner, an avid and hard worker, and is striving to meet his goal of making a salary that will qualify to support his wife as an equal in contributing to the family finances. He is not secure in that fact, and often feels that his success lies on the actions and directions put forth by others. He has a definite ability in the legal maneuvers and management of real estate, and great potential in becoming future partner in his father-in-law’s law firm. This, is all on his own merit.
Pomerantz’s prose is spot on, direct and strong, and she adeptly manages to convey the working class Jewish American experience brilliantly. She masterfully portrays the characters, and this reader felt that they were realized in every aspect. The wealthy background of some of them, doesn’t help them succeed as far as their emotional intelligence is concerned. They appear as insecure as some of their less wealthy counterparts. Their mindsets, emotions, successes and failings are all depicted in vivid word imagery, and depicted with realistic personality traits, in all their variances.
Vishniak has the brains and the good looks, and can present an excellent appearance, but it takes him years to realize that he has actually made it as far as he has on is own, through his own expertise. It takes his having a child for him to understand and realize what is truly important in the scheme of life. Money does not necessarily buy contentment and happiness. It might be a means to an end, as the euphemism goes, but it can also turn out to be the end of meaningfulness.
Rich Boy is an excellent coming of age story, and a novel that emphasizes the journey of one Jewish American man to find identity and acceptance on his own, in a world of social status and extreme wealth. I applaud Sharon Pomerantz for this well-written, poignant and insightful story.