Good Rich People by Eliza Jane Brazier

This was a really excellent examination of poverty and class that was somewhat marred by an under-explored ending. I suppose one could argue that everything that needed to be said was contained in the preceding pages but I, for one, wanted to know what happened to Helen next.

Good Rich People is the story of Lyla, a moneyed young woman whose father lost everything, so decided to claw back her rightful place in society by fascinating the handsome and obscenely wealthy Graham Herschel. Even tho she suspected that he wasn’t a good person, she didn’t particularly care — or, as she begins to suspect towards the end of the book, she subconsciously thought she could change him. But as her marriage begins to falter, she finds herself drawn further and further into the sick games Graham and his mother Margo play with the tenants they specially select to live in the guesthouse below her own home, just across the street from Margo’s palatial estate.

Demi Golding is their latest tenant, and Lyla can’t figure out whether she’s just stubbornly solitary or, worse, a plant brought there by Margo to ensure that Lyla doesn’t win. For it’s Lyla’s turn to play the game, to prove herself to her husband and mother-in-law, to show that she deserves to stay in their rarefied circles. But she’s already broken the rules once, when everything went wrong with their former tenant. Will she be able to break the rules again in order to save herself, and possibly the lives of others?

The cultural and literary allusions come fast tho never too heavy-handedly in this elegantly constructed novel that’s part comedy of manners and wholly a crime thriller. A bit like an American version of Bong Joon-ho’s amazing movie Parasite, this novel features both a shallow, trapped, rich housewife as well as a woman who’s known the kind of grinding poverty that renders people like herself invisible to society at large. While Lyla’s peccadilloes are often played for dry laughs — there was one throwaway line that was eerily reminiscent of Lucille Bluth’s “It’s one banana, Michael. What could it cost, ten dollars?” — Demi’s suffering speared me to my core. It’s rare to read such an honest accounting of what it means to have nothing, not even a safe place to reliably sleep. My mouth felt dry reading Eliza Jane Brazier’s words, to be reminded so forcefully of the desperation that seizes you when you’re battling to become a real, recognized person in an American society stacked so firmly against the poor and dispossessed.

And while I found the denouement just a smidge less than satisfying, I did greatly appreciate Ms Brazier’s acknowledgments, where she credits the British benefits system for keeping her late husband, and thereby herself, supported. “These systems save lives and are desperately needed everywhere,” she writes, and I could not agree more. My family and I were extremely lucky not to have to brave the streets in order to survive in America. Those days are behind us now, and will hopefully never be seen in our futures again, but I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. It’s a crime that anyone in a country this prosperous is treated as poorly as those experiencing homelessness, and I’m hoping Ms Brazier’s book helps raise awareness about what a very real problem our lack of a support system is.

Good Rich People by Eliza Jane Brazier was published today January 25 2022 by Berkley Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

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