By Aaron Calvin, Assistant Entertainment Editor
Listening to Martha McPhee read a couple of excerpts from her book, Dear Money, I realized that this was a member of the Hofstra faculty proving her worth in public. To those students in attendance, the professor demonstrated why she has earned her title. She can teach creative writing because she is talented at it.
From the two excerpts that McPhee read from her novel, she demonstrated a great command of her language. While not quite the tight, squared off style of last week's Great Writer, Amy Hempel, McPhee works in her own demonstration of eloquence. She paints in broad strokes, painting a vivid and detailed picture of her world without wasting a word.
McPhee's novel takes place in the world of Wall Street, specifically with the bond salesmen of the mortgage-backed securities world. Like Hempel, McPhee uses a great deal of specialized jargon, putting the reader within the cutthroat and often-bizarre world of Wall Street. This is no more apparent than in the excerpt from which she read, an account of the main character, India, proving her worth in a gluttonous hamburger-eating contest. Oddly, this is a true account, taken from McPhee's personal research of the industry.
The characters that inhabit Dear Money resist easy classification. Despite being a novel about the financial sector that deals with the recent crash, it was conceived in 2004 and was never intended to be a critique. The characters reflect this, inhabiting the world without attempting to overtly criticize it. For McPhee, likability is not a concern in creating her characters, but rather how complex and dynamic they are.
Equally refreshing is the novel's resistance to tropes. McPhee showed, through her explanation and reading, a novel chiefly concerned with seduction by abstractions like wealth and the relationship between art and the modern world. She avoids the trappings expected of female characters. Throughout the novel, India never gets involved with another man, doesn't conflict with her husband over her newfound occupation.
Through real world research and well crafted prose, McPhee set a high bar for all professors in the Creative Writing department.