Six Figures by Fred G. Leebron

In Fred G. Leebron’s novel, Six Figures, Warner Lutz is the newly-appointed director of  MORE, a third-rate charity in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a very small budget. There’s BIG money to be made working for high-profile charities, but Warner certainly isn’t getting rich at a salary of $35,000 a year while his wife, Megan makes $25,000 a year working at an art gallery. With a combined income of $50,000, the Lutzs are just over double the poverty level for a family of 4, so we can’t exactly feel sorry for Warner. That’s ok, he’s busy feeling sorry for himself, and even Megan, who’s continually put in the position of finding the so-called silver lining, admits that Warner is the “most negative person” she knows.

six figuresWarner is full of bitterness, anger and resentment about all the things he doesn’t have. They live in a tiny townhouse and drive a beat-up Honda that’s clocked over 100,000 miles. It doesn’t help that Warner mingles with the wealthy or drives by their mansions, and while he knows that life could be worse, he could fall through the “trapdoor” and join “the working poor, the criminal poor,” he can still barely contain his resentment at being treated second class.

Yet he still wanted more. Every morning when he drove Sophie in their shitcan hundred-thousand-plus-mile Honda with the guardrail crease down one side to the private but only $175-a-month preschool and he saw the other parents in the new Volvos and minivans and Suburbans, he wanted more. Every noon when he stood in line at the vegetarian take-out for his cup of soup and can of diet cola while in a nearby café the gray suits and sleek dresses milled between garden salads and poached salmon, he wanted more. And in the evenings when he drew up to the cramped, redbrick town-house apartments of Crape-Myrtle Hill, having passed the magic dust mansions of the growing rank-and-file rich with their screened-in porches and their two-story great rooms sand their eat-in kitchens and their master bedroom baths and built-in saunas, he wanted more.

Warner deeply regrets going into charity work, but it’s too difficult to change careers, and so he spends his days bitterly comparing his lot in life with those who ooze money; he “failed to swallow Megan’s relativity argument,” and finds it impossible to curb his anger and resentment.  Megan becomes the centre of much of Warner’s anger, and when Warner’s job performance comes under scrutiny, pressure mounts to boiling point. Then something terrible happens.

Six Figures is a novel seeped in psychological suspense in a domestic setting, and in this examination of a marriage, we see the simple day-to-day demands of a family. Megan has put her career on hold in order to follow her husband, and yet he secretly resents her and the children. Everything seems to be a choice for the Lutzs as they juggle careers, car repairs and daycare with strained financial realities. Warner is stretched to breaking point by the immense pressures of his job, and his constant envy of the ever-elusive affluent lifestyle. While a crime takes place, this is not primarily a crime novel. Instead this is the story of a marriage, the assignment of blame, and the limits of trust.

Warner is an unlikeable, alienating character with a nasty temper, and while that’s not a problem in itself, nearly everyone in this slightly depressing book is unpleasant, including Warner’s parents who arrive on the scene from Pennsylvania. There are a few scenes in which Warner rubs up against those wealthier than him and while his resentments and observations are directed towards showing the superficiality of status markers, we see that he wants the very things he supposedly despises.  There will always to be people who have more than us, but you can bet that there are also people who have less. Warner and Megan’s social position puts them outside of the window of the wealthy looking in, and that’s an interesting but uncomfortable place to be. While it’s easy to have sympathy for Megan, it’s not easy to have sympathy for Warner, yet they are, after all, in the same boat.

I loved the book’s title–after all that six figure income is a term that’s bandied about and seems to mean that the recipient has passed some magical status marker to a point of arrival. It’s a bit odd though when you think about it as 101,000 is a lot different from 999,000 but those two numbers both qualify as ‘six figures.’ It was interesting to see how the Lutzs decided to spend $150 on carpet cleaning when they are supposedly squeezing every penny to buy a house, but that’s society for you. I’m always amazed at how many people who claim to be ‘broke’ have regular lawn service, or cleaners, or who take their pets to be washed when they could do it their damn selves.

The biggest problem I had with the novel is characterisation. Initially this seemed to be a character-driven novel focusing on the dynamics of a marriage, but for this reader, the crime aspect worked against the character development. For the first part of the novel, Warner is a time bomb waiting to explode and then later, he remains in control until one big outburst which is intended as a defense. Somehow this didn’t quite gel. There’s a big build up and then a dispersal of all that anger and rage as it disappears … puff… into the ozone. Perhaps people would act this way in this horrible situation, but character seemed secondary to the plot.  A couple of the plot twists strained credulity, and readers should be prepared for the ambiguity of the ending.

Review copy

About these ads

16 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Leebron Fred G.

16 responses to “Six Figures by Fred G. Leebron

  1. Brian Joseph

    The pressures inherent in middle class life and the accompanying related job stress is certainly great material for fiction. It also sounds as if the set up for the characters was well thought out. Too bad that they were ultimately disappointing.

  2. I didn’t connect the title with income, so thanks.
    Chronic dissatisfaction is a malady of our times. Constant exposure to mindless ads makes people greedy, frustrated for things they don’t need that much.

    • “mindless ads…”

      I guess they are “mindful” to most people! :-)

    • Is there a saying in France to indicate that someone has ‘landed’? ($$ wise)

      • No, of course not. Nobody talks about how much they make. I only know my husband’s wages. Bragging about money is bad education.

        • It’s not so much that people say
          “I make X” as much as people talk about others, so you might get someone telling a friend that his son “makes six figures,” or “she married a man who makes six figures,” that sort of thing.

          • No way. Bad education as well. You might say “her husband is successful” or “her husband has a good position” But most women work here and keep working after they are married. Thinking about the husband’s success is more for the generation before mine. I can hear my mother say “she married someone who has a good job” but not one of my girlfriends.

  3. Interesting dissection of middle-class bile, but I’m not sure I’m up for it. I live in it…but not of it :-)

    In Carolina, they can do okay on that income, but it is all relative…

    As you note, double the poverty level, and also a bit above the national median household income: what about the 50% BELOW the median?

    De Toqueville noted that in American democracy, without heriditary cultural positions, each generation lives in fear of backsliding into the “not as well off.” Another great critic…

    • I don’t know much about NC economy but there’s one point when they are trying to buy a house and it seems that they can JUST catch the housing market if they strike while the iron is hot. They want a good neighbourhood, good schools etc, but they can’t afford a great deal. It’s a common story.

  4. I’ve always thought that the term “six figure income” doesn’t mean much. It just means something when you don’t have it. It would be more telling whether someone has a monthly 6, 5 or 4 figure income. But people don’t usually tell you that.
    Too bad the book fizzled out in the end.

  5. acommonreaderuk

    Well, you’ve certainly told your readers the good and bad about this one. It sounded really interesting, but the unpleasantness of the characters was obviously a little wearing.

    I used to live in Guildford Surrey, where my neighbours were much wealthier than I could be (as a Civil Servant!). The Mercs and BMWs around me used to make me very ashamed of my 7 year old Vauxhall Astra.

    • I know people who feel very much like the main character, so the author was onto something with this theme. Yes, commodity and status envy is something you have to get over or it can drive you around the bend.

  6. To be honest, this doesn’t sound like a very good book. The subject matter is interesting, your review certain was interesting, but it sounds like the author missed opportunities with this one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s