Written as a novel in stories, Dori Carter’s social satire gets into the hearts and souls of her characters, and presents a fresh look at our attitudes toward money and the ever-shifting nature of status in America.
From the Hardcover edition.
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About the Author
Dori Carter is a former screenwriter and television producer. Her first novel, Beautiful Wasps Having Sex, published in 2000, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Carter lives with her husband, dogs, cats, cows, and horses in Santa Barbara, California.
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “We were poor but the glory of it was we never knew it.” Maybe in Abilene, Kansas, he couldn’t figure it out, but in Rancho Esperanza, California, if your family didn’t have money, no one ever let you forget it. I was nine years old when we moved there, and even though the Vietnam War raged nightly on our Magnavox, and a marching-fucking-drugged-out-rampaging youth was upending America (and all but annihilating the Wasp Establishment in the process), Rancho Esperanza remained a town where Old Money and social rominence went hand-in-glove. Among the rich, and even those of us who weren’t, it was simply understood: pedigree was everything. Not only your pedigree, but your horses’ and your dogs’ as well. My mother, whose parents were humble Danish dairy farmers, took the opposite approach and firmly subscribed to the Scandinavian code of janteloven–don’t show off. Though I suspect this was less a family ethos than a realization that we couldn’t anyway, so why bother trying.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. When Peter goes back to Rancho Esperanza as an adult for the Fourth of July party at the Crowell’s much smaller home on the golf course, he discovers that Claire has married Nacho. Chicky declares that she doesn’t give a damn if the neighbors at Seven Oaks think she has “turned their precious place into little Tijuana.” Peter describes Chicky as “lofting her margarita glass…high above her head, like the Statue of Liberty.” Discuss the symbolism inferred by this observation. Who has been liberated? Discuss the irony of where Chicky and Lincoln wind up having to live after the fire.
2. Jerry says “I never hide the fact that I’m a Jew, but neither do I advertise it to people who aren’t Jewish.” Discuss the significance of this statement. In what ways has Jerry attempted to hide the fact that he was Jewish? In what ways does he overcompensate to buck Jewish stereotypes? In what ways does his faith and family history define Jerry? What is the significance of the title of Jerry’s story: “The Savior, Alfonso?” What does Alfonso save Jerry from?
3. What did you think of Sally’s decision to have a tryst with Nacho? Did you sympathize with her? Did it make you think less of her? Of him?
4. Leigh believes that Nancy lets her guard down in front of her because “I wasn’t someone whose judgment she had to fear.” Is this true? Did Nancy have something to fear in her relationship with Leigh?
5. Several characters in We Are Rich speak of wanting “justice.” Peter says of Chicky: “The class distinction she so effortlessly conveyed offended my instinctive sense of justice, never more so than when she referred to me as ‘the cook’s boy’.” Speaking of Leigh’s desire to see Howard and Nancy Berry exposed as phonies and frauds, Mac tells Leigh “You want some kind of justice but you’re not going to get it.” In their refusal to settle with Delilah, Jerry and Renee want to see justice served. In the end does anyone get the justice they are seeking?
6. When Lincoln discovers Walter and Lailani having sex in the stud barn at the school fundraiser, he has such a visceral reaction to this that he has a stroke. Discuss the reasons why he may have responded in this way. Does Lincoln’s righteous indignation seem hypocritical considering what we discover about his past?
7. In “The M&R Beach Chair Operating Company,” when Zane took all the credit for the student film that he and Ian made, how did it make you feel about Ian? About Zane? What lessons did Ian learn from the situation? In “The Savior, Alfonso” Jerry cherishes the lessons he learned from his own father but worries he has nothing to teach his son, Ian. What life lessons does Ian end up learning from Jerry?
8. In “The Scandal” Bobby Bingham says, “No matter what you may think of George and Barbara Bush’s desiccate personalities, at least they knew how to carry on a tradition. They tried to pass the torch to their sons and what did Dubya and Jeb Boy do? They let the torch go out. And you think the Bush girls–those teenybopper twins of his–are going to relight it? Once the torch is out, it’s out forever.” Can you name some characters in We Are Rich who, despite having every advantage, fail to carry on the tradition of their lofty lineage? Discuss examples of characters in the book who are representative of the American Dream in that they have the fire and ambition to make more of themselves than previous generations in their families.
9. Translated from the Spanish, the name Fidelia means loyalty. In Edmund Spenser’s epic poem “The Faerie Queene,” the character Fidelia is full of quiet grace and dignity as she teaches the Red Cross Knight about discipline, causing him to be repentant. Discuss loyalty as it pertains to the character Fidelia in We Are Rich. Who has been loyal to her? Who has she been loyal to? Has she been disloyal to anyone? In what ways does her inner resolve serve as a mirror that exposes the sins of others in We Are Rich?
10. After two failed marriages but remarkable professional success, Peter says of himself, “I was driven to prove myself to people who probably never gave me a moment’s thought.” Was this true of Peter all along, even as a child? What other characters in the book have this same inclination?
11. Does it surprise you when Peter and Leigh end up together? Do you find them compatible? What type of relationship do you imagine them having?
12. There is a lot of discussion of art in the book. In “The Stud Barn” Lincoln follows his tirade about modern art with the statement “I wouldn’t try to define art for anybody.” Does he actually have opinions about what is and what is not art? How do various characters in the book define art? Bobby Bingham’s fake illustrations are believed by the Berrys to be objects of great worth, although they turn out to be worthless fakes. In Steve Farkey’s closing “All About Town” piece, Nancy is quoted as referring to these fakes as “a priceless piece of Rancho Esperanza’s history.” In what ways is this an accurate assessment? Discuss the significance of the Kornblatt’s $7,000 mirror being the cause of the fire?
13. We’re told that Elliott Kornblatt earned his fortune as “a big mucky muck at Lehman Brothers.” Do you think the author is making a statement about the current global economic crisis? Discuss the parallels between some of the characters in the book and some of the real-life figures who’ve made headlines in recent months.