Friday, July 19, 2013

The Chocolate Money Review

I read most of this book yesterday while recovering from an IVF retrieval. It was a good distraction and went by fast. The Chocolate Money follows chocolate heiress Tabitha "Babs" Ballentyne and her daughter, Bettina, through their Chicago life. Left her parents' money at a relatively young age, Babs bought a luxurious apartment in Chicago, which she refers to as the aparthouse because of its size. Her daughter, Bettina, is witness to her mother's ostentatious lifestyle and ridiculous rules.

The first part of the novel follows Bettina at the age of 11. Babs is pretty much a horrific mother - sharing way too many personal details about her sex life, waking Bettina up at all hours to be punished over the smallest infractions and pulling her out of school to go shoe shopping. Bettina is desperate for her mother's love and affection, which so very rarely comes. She ends up forming an attachment to Mack, a married man who Bettina is having an affair with. Even when the affair winds down, Babs uses Bettina to get at Mack and his family.

Fast forward four years to Bettina's entry into Cardiss, an east coast private school. Part II covers her first two months at the school. Babs doesn't make an appearance until the end of that part but her presence is impossible to forget, especially as you see the damage that she inflicted on her daughter over the years. I found this section to be very similar to my memories of Curtis Sittenfield's protagonist in Prep, (which I wrote before reading this description of the novel on amazon: "As funny as it is scandalous, The Chocolate Money is Mommie DearestPrep, and 50 Shades of Gray all rolled into one compulsively readable book"). Bettina is similarly damaged and disaffected. She is incapable of forming real relationships and seeks out punishment (which is where the 50 Shades of Gray comparison comes in) through a pretty messed up relationship to a boy in her school. At Cardiss, she also comes into contact with someone connected to Mack, who she continued to be obsessed with over the years.

Part III takes Bettina back to Chicago and back under Babs' roof. There the story takes an emotional turn as Bettina tries to figure out how to live her life with or without her mother's approval.

I liked the novel a lot. Bettina is a bit of a frustrating character because she's so awful in so many ways, but it's clear that this personality was the result of being raised by Babs and therefore isn't really her fault. It's hard to sympathize with either woman, but like many scandalous stories, it's the drama that pulls you in, not sympathy towards the protagonists. I'd say this is a good summer read.

Review: "The Chocolate Money is anything but sugary"

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

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