3 Dollars


At once humorous and dramatic, Three Dollars is about Eddie, an honest, compassionate man who finds himself, at the age of thirty-eight, with a wife, a child, and three dollars. At any other time the world would have smiled on him. But this is the nineties and the world values other things. A brilliantly deft and poignant portrait of a man attempting to retain his humanity, his family, and his sense of humor in a corporate world.
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At once humorous and dramatic, Three Dollars is about Eddie, an honest, compassionate man who finds himself, at the age of thirty-eight, with a wife, a child, and three dollars. At any other time the world would have smiled on him. But this is the nineties and the world values other things. A brilliantly deft and poignant portrait of a man attempting to retain his humanity, his family, and his sense of humor in a corporate world.
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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
...[W]itty, erudite and exceptionally moving....Perlman...captures the pain of inevitable adulthood with such startling accuracy that it brings tears to the eyes.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One of Australia's acclaimed young writers, first novelist Perlman explores the conundrums of conscience in one man's desire to understand his place as a husband, father and complicated human being amid late capitalism's ever-escalating pressure. Idealistic, intelligent Eddie Harnovey, a 38-year-old chemical engineer, tells his life story from boyhood through college years to the present. Eddie's narrative revolves largely around the women in his life: his childhood love, the beautiful, privileged Amanda, pops into his world every nine and a half years to bewilder him; his brilliant wife, Tanya, a passionate, quixotic academic, is plagued by bouts of depression; their precocious daughter, Abby, raises the stakes on every decision Eddie makes. After a soulful, progressive youth, Eddie has wound up working for a government agency in Melbourne, where he struggles to maintain his integrity and provide for his family in an increasingly hostile corporate world. When he loses his job, he finds himself with only three dollars to his name, about to lose his house and on the edge of terror. He gets survival lessons from an unexpected source, and then, after brute accident and violence signal the end for him, salvation occurs because of his own previous decency and kindness. Eddie's blend of self-deprecating wit, caustic social comment, spirited sensitivity and big heart carries the narrative in beautifully controlled passages that brim with insight, humor and feeling. His world is rich with the pleasures and pains of love, family, friendship and marriage, and the supporting characters in this prize-winning narrative are smart and likable; some are unabashedly erudite, facilitating entertaining philosophical debate. Perlman's sheer storytelling virtuosity gives this essentially domestic tale the narrative drive of a thriller and the unforgettable radiance of a novel that accurately reflects essential human values. (June) FYI: Melbourne's newspaper The Age awarded this novel its best fiction award for 1998, and named it as the Best Book of the Year. It also won the Best Book of the Year award from the Fellowship of Australian Writers. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Elizabeth Judd
Three Dollars is a quirky cautionary tale that feels like a wake-up call for prosperous young people everywhere.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Australian Perlman's debut is a slow-starter, but its final third bracingly chronicles one male's stunned, compelling flail along the slippery slope to unearned poverty. Named Book of the Year in 1998 by The Age (an Australian periodical), the tale of Eddie Harnovey plays out in Melbourne, though he's clearly an Everyman of the West. In an intelligent, bitterly funny voice, he recalls his college training and early liaisons with Amanda, the daughter of a wealthy magnate, and with Tanya, his future wife. His father, mother, and sister also appear, but only an account of an uncle's death resonates with considerable power. Perlman's prose (and his story) really take off, though, once the spadework of personal background has been performed. Eddie becomes an environmental scientist with the government and marries the alluring, brilliant Tanya. As she struggles to complete a Ph.D. in economic history, he's assigned to write an impact statement on the Spensers Gulf refinery, a hoary, illegal complex owned by Amanda's father. Eddie and Tanya acquire the expected burdens and responsibilities (a mortgaged house, an unreliable car, the divorce of a couple close to them) and a beloved daughter, Abby. In quick succession, Abby becomes ill, Tanya makes her contribution to her family's history of depression, and Eddie finds the project entangling him in a thicket of jealousies and resentments that ultimately close him out of a job. But the shallow story of a virtuous hero swallowed by a faceless culture of greed is magnificently interwoven with Eddie's domestic and social concerns, giving the novel a delightful richness and tragic power. Creating a sophisticated, subtle voice—at times comic,elegiac, or philosophic—that intelligently and un-ironically wrestles with the battlements of 20th-century fortunes, Perlman shows himself to be a gifted writer of considerable promise.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781878448880
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage Publishing, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1999 Edition
  • Pages: 381
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 1.41 (d)

First Chapter

Chapter One

Every nine and a half years I see Amanda. This is not a rule. It does not have to happen but it does. It has happened four times that I have seen her every nine and a half years which tends to make it more like a rule than an exception. But each time it is always and everywhere exceptional. Most recently was today. I had three dollars.

    As children we were put in the same class at school although she was a year younger than me, and has been ever since. It was part of a pilot programme to have the brightest children from the year below put into a composite class with the brightest children of the year above and me. I don't know how I got into that class because I had not demonstrated a particular capacity for anything much. It was not that I was not interested in things but rather that I was interested in too many things. This interest in everything was completely internal to me, without external manifestations, and so went unnoticed by all adults except my parents, who were worried by it. I would just sit around and think; at least that's the way I remember it. Perhaps Amanda remembers it differently. I couldn't be bothered running around or even making much trouble. There were too many things to contemplate for me to be tempted into running at speed from A to B in order to get there sooner. While we were being taught about trains or mammals, I was wondering how it was the teacher managed to have the same smell every day, a musky smell that announced him long after he had gone and always would.

    Amanda had a smell of her own and long, long hair that was whiter than it needed to be to pass for blonde. She smiled a lot and could have been mistaken for Heidi were it not for her tendency to get dirty. This worried her parents, particularly her mother whose severe Calvinist bleaching techniques were in constant battle with the toughest stains Amanda could find. The dirt from basketballs hugged her chest at recess and lunchtimes and had to be treated with the sternest pre-wash solutions her mother could obtain on the open market. The scrubbing and bleaching left their own stains on the felt letters that spelt Amanda on her t-shirt.

    We were at a government school and Amanda's mother seemed to feel it was this, more than anything intrinsic to Amanda, that was staining the angelic Heidi shampoo commercial that left home so perfect each morning with her brothers. The family lived in a large Georgian-style house across the road from a plant, fruit and vegetable nursery by the canal. Her mother never set foot inside the nursery, preferring instead to buy the family's fruit and vegetable requirements in the shopping strip that called itself `the village'.

    Amanda's father was more of a presence than a person. She seldom referred to him and I think I only ever saw him once. He wore a dark suit with a crisp white starched shirt. Her mother must have loved doing his laundry or perhaps it was the housekeeper who had this privilege? He was a cross between Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity and Fred MacMurray in `My Three Sons'. His pronouncements were never heard, just heard about. His status in the family was seigneurial. And not only in the family: he was the first person I had ever come across with a job that had a two-word name. He was a chemical engineer.

    Amanda would say it from time to time, not boastfully but matter-of-factly, `a chemical engineer'. It sounded good but we didn't know what it meant. My father worked for the council in ways he could never bring himself to discuss and I never pressed him. He wore a white shirt and tie too but it was more crumpled than Amanda's father's shirt, something Amanda might have noticed on one of those evenings at our place after school. But what were the chances of an eight-and-a-half-year-old girl noticing something like that? Only her mother was sensitive to pleats.

    There were quite a few afternoons at our place when a group of us would hide from each other, not just Amanda and me but also a few of her friends and some of mine. I tried to make it about equal. My mother would make afternoon tea for us. Sometimes Amanda and I would hide in my parents' wardrobe. We all hid in different permutations and combinations but I never took anyone else but Amanda into the wardrobe. We wouldn't say a word, we would just wait in the dark, bunched up and the sides of our knees pressed against each other as we sat on my parents' shoes. In the warmer months she wore my beach hat, the one with my name embroidered on it, and when her parents took her away with her brothers to Coff's Harbour for a holiday she called me on the public phone, feeding her pocket money in, coin by coin.

    `It sucks here,' she said and I, never having been there, agreed and was delighted to hear it. My sister Kirsten had a David Bowie album I had learnt by heart while watching her and her friends colour their Faces. I quoted a line from it to Amanda in Coff's Harbour and told her to write it down when she got off the phone and to carry it around with her. Be elusive but don't walk far.

    I had no idea what it meant.

    It was through Amanda that I first learned of the precariousness of things and of the arrogance of certain memories in demanding your attention out of turn. When her mother called our place for the first time ever I expected her to want to speak to my mother, or at least to my older sister who had just started secondary school and had taken to wearing make-up when she went up the road for bread or milk. But Amanda's mother told me that I would do. Amanda would not be coming back to school after the summer and there was to be no more playing. I remember she asked me to have a good day. That was the end of the first time I saw Amanda.

    When I saw her today I had three dollars. This might not be so bad under certain circumstances. I cannot imagine what they might be but I was not under them.

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