Family Values

Money can't buy happiness in Janelle Brown's new Silicon Valley satire.

A pharmaceutical company goes public, making its CEO’s family worth $300 million. The day that happens is the day he tells his wife he wants a divorce. And that’s the day on which Janelle Brown‘s new Silicon Valley satire, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, begins.

This novel by a journalist who has covered Internet culture and style for The New York Times, Elle, and follows Janice Miller and her daughters — serious postfemininst Margaret and insecure school-slut Lizzie — through their wobbly paces as a family newly rich and newly broken. Some reviewers “take great exception to the fact that I wrote about rich people, as if no one can identify,” says Brown, who will be at A Great Good Place for Books (6120 La Salle Ave., Oakland) on June 19. But in the Bay Area, “there is such a culture of money now … that being ‘rich’ has almost become divorced from traditional ‘glamour’ and is increasingly seen … as a necessity for survival. It’s the suburban life on steroids, not so much ‘glamorous’ in traditional Hollywood terms as just a massive upgrade of the classic American dream: a nice house, good car, weekend vacation home, good education for the kid. Except that the house is in Aspen, and the car is a Porsche … and private-school tuition is $40,000 a year.”

Although wealth is intrinsic to this novel, at its core, this is a book about relationships. Janice, Margaret, and Lizzie are all quite different, yet they struggle to help each other — with eating issues, addictions, wayward men, and more: “I’ll pray for your soul,” a Bible-infatuated Lizzie tells her sister at one point. “Even though you totally suck.” Brown makes both the tension and tenacity of these bonds feel real. Personally, she identifies most with Margaret: “Certainly, when my sister was much younger, there was a sense that she looked up to me, and I had a responsibility because of that. And I also was a terribly bossy bitch sometimes, and often a total know-it-all.”

Early in the book, an acquaintance asks Janice, “What on earth does a person do with that much money?” How would the novelist answer that question? “It’s such an obscene amount of money that it’s hard to come up with any answer that doesn’t sound either overly saintly — ‘I’ll give it all to charity!’ — or excessive — ‘I’d buy myself a yacht! And a private jet!’ So I suppose my answer is somewhere in between: Use some of it for charity … and some of it to do things that are totally excessive. I’d eat at French Laundry … pay for the education and homes of many family members and friends … finance filmmakers, authors, artists who are struggling to do their art and pay the bills simultaneously.” What would you do with it? 7 p.m.

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