Book Review: Mount Pleasant by Don Gillmor
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Author: Don Gillmor
Format: Hardcover, 298 pages
Publisher: Random House of Canada
Pub Date: March 26, 2013
Summary from publisher:
In middle age, debt has become the most significant relationship in Harry Salter’s life. He was born to wealthy parents in leafy and privileged Rosedale, at a time when the city was still defined by its WASP elite. But nothing in life has turned out the way Harry was led to expect. He’s unsure of his place in society, his marriage is crumbling, his son is bordering on estranged, and on top of it all his father is dying.
As he sits at his father’s bedside, Harry inevitably daydreams about his inheritance. A couple of his father’s millions would rescue him from his ballooning debt–maybe even save his marriage. But when the will is read, all that’s left for Harry is $4200. Dale Salter’s money is gone. Out of desperation and disbelief, Harry starts to dig into what happened to the money. As he follows a trail strewn with family secrets and unsavory suspicions, he discovers not only that old money has lost its grip and new money taken on an ugly hue, but that his whole existence been cast into shadow by the weight of his expectations.
Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:
Mount Pleasant by Don Gillmor is a story largely focused on the preoccupation of its main character, Harry Salter, with his debt. Born to wealthy parents and what he considers to be “old money,” he had hoped for the most part, to receive a significant inheritance from his father’s estate at the news of his death after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.
But, unfortunately, when Dale Salter’s will is read, Harry’s hope for financial salvation is diminished as low as the amount he receives, a measly $4,200 out of what was expected to be millions of dollars.
This sets Harry off to a desperate investigation of what happened to his father’s money and discovers there, the amplification of his troubled marriage, a revelation of family secrets, and the lure and danger of financial power and greed.
The third-person narrative primarily focused on the main character, Harry Salter’s thoughts and experiences, sets a cool tone of intellectual superiority, a fear-driven nostalgia that lulls into psychosomatic regret, and a subtle decadence of those who have had privilege and access to a lifestyle of sophistication and ease because of wealth.
Harry Salter is a gentleman of acquired tastes burdened by the expectations he has of himself, and of those tastes particularly held by his pampered wife and her dependence on the security and lifestyle he has continually provided for her, as well as the expectations of those in his social class, especially his mother and sister, who continue to live in the comfort of their standard of living as offered by the promise of their wealth. They, unlike Harry, are not in debt.
But, the characters themselves are not written superficially nor flatly.
Gladys, Harry’s estranged wife, is cold and logical, yet a necessary foundation who keeps Harry’s social and public world from collapsing, almost mimetic to Harry’s own feelings towards money.
Ben, their twenty-something-year-old son is bitterly impassive, resentful, and distant, if not indifferent to his father, taken by the cruelty and dominance of an intelligent, yet fanatical political activist.
Felicia, Harry’s sister, is cool in her self-assurance, born precocious and apparently knowledgeable and more aware of secret details in the history of both their parents, which is a surprise to Harry, as well as a personal injury.
And Dixie, Dale Salter’s third wife and recently made widow is stereotypically young and sensual, and dependant and hopeful for a large inheritance, but unsurprisingly duped.
Together, along with Dale Salter’s former financial management peers at his investment firm BRG, casts a plot of people fixated on the use, accumulation, and search for happiness, freedom, and security found in money—old or new.
The plot is well-paced, trudging forward with repressed preoccupation, quiet desperation, and intelligent and biting sarcasm, which carries until the end at which point I found the mystery of Dale Salter’s money, too quickly resolved in an act to tie-up loose ends and provide closure, if not for the reader of the novel, but for its choking and engulfed main character whose worry about financial ruin provokes physical symptoms.
Is the story of Mount Pleasant worth a million bucks? Not necessarily. But, neither was Mr. Salter’s estate at the end of his life. Then again, that might be the whole point: that there are different kinds of wealth and that the best kind isn’t always rooted in money.
If you own a bank account, a credit card, or dream of someday taking a holiday trip to Florence, Italy, or if you’ve ever invested your funds on a whim in stock market trade, own a mortgage, or a migraine from worry about your finances—this true, yet intelligently funny novel will empathize with you and your cheque book for only the cost of the 294 pages you’ve at least invested your time in reading it.
The gamble associated with reading it, far outweighs the reliability and guarantee of promised revenue gained by an illusive stock market, and the financial delusion of perpetual security, as well as the fear associated with the potential financial collapse of our time.
Characters: 4 stars
Pacing: 3.5 stars
Cover Design: 3.5 stars
Plot: 3.5 stars
A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.
About the Author:
Don Gillmor is the author of Mount Pleasant (March, 2013, Random House) a novel set in contemporary Toronto. His first novel Kanata (2009, Penguin) dealt with the whole of Canadian history and was critically acclaimed. He is also the author of a two-volume history of Canada, Canada: A People’s History, and three other books of non-fiction, The Desire of Every Living Thing, Stratford Behind the Scenes, and I Swear by Apollo.
He has written nine books for children, two of which were nominated for a Governor General’s Award. He has worked as a journalist and was a senior editor at Walrus magazine, and a contributing editor at both Saturday Night and Toronto Life magazine. He has won ten National Magazine Awards and numerous other honours. He lives in Toronto.
– From Don Gillmor’s official website
Have you read any of Don Gillmor’s books? If so, which one did you enjoy the most?
How far in debt do you think you can be to finally become seriously worried about it?
Is there a real difference between “old” money and “new” money? If so, how?