Cover image for The goodlife
The goodlife
Scribner, Keith.
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Publication Information:
New York : Riverhead Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
263 pages ; 22 cm
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Based on the true story of the kidnapping of an Exxon executive in suburban New Jersey, The GoodLife is the chilling story of an ordinary husband and wife consumed by their pursuit of the American Dream.

Author Notes

Keith Scribner graduated from Vassar College and earned his MFA from the University of Montana. He was awarded a Wallace Stegner Fellowship by Stanford University, where he now holds a Jones Lectureship teaching creative writing. His stories have appeared in American Short Fiction and the North Atlantic Review . Scribner lives in Menlo Park, California, and is working on his second novel.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Based on an actual crime, this first novel is no less gripping for the inevitability of its plot, as it illuminates human motives and behavior. Convinced that they deserve the good life, a middle-aged couple who claim to be eco-terrorists kidnap an oil company executive for an $18.5 million ransom. Ex-cop Theo is certain he can pull it off. As life would have it, things go awry: the kidnap victim loses his glasses and can't read the ransom note, gets shot by accident, and has a heart condition to boot. So the outcome is no surprise, but Scribner adds depth through multiple viewpoints: Theo's father, a retired police captain dying of emphysema, regrets past errors, as does the kidnap victim as he lies imprisoned in a storage locker, and the wives of both victim and perpetrator question their love for their husbands, while Theo remains cocky throughout. Scribner has created wonderfully complex characters in a briskly paced narrative. --Michele Leber

Publisher's Weekly Review

An ordinary middle-aged New Jersey man, heavily in debt and sick of merely dreaming of wealth, cooks up a doomed kidnapping plot in Scribner's provocative first novel, an astute and detailed comment on the American Dream's criminal edge. The narrative traces one hellish weekend in the life of a loving but deluded family, the Wolkoviaks. After the failure of yet another harebrained entrepreneurial scheme, Theo, a chronic screwup, has moved his wife, Colleen, and their whip-smart, anorexic teen daughter, Tiffany, back into the family home with his dad, Malcolm, a retired cop dying from emphysema, and saintly mom. Unbeknownst to Malcolm, who worries endlessly over Theo's future, Theo has cooked up a crazy plan to kidnap Stona Brown, the head of Petrochem (the company that fired Theo before he started his latest doomed business), who lives close by. Coercing Colleen into helping him, Theo plots to keep his victim in a homemade plywood box in a storage locker, and plans to demand an $18-million ransom. But the kidnapping goes wrong from the beginning. Theo accidentally shoots Brown before locking him in the box and neglects to recognize his captive's worsening condition as several days go by. Colleen unravels as the consequences of their act dawn on her, and when Brown dies, she turns on Theo. Meanwhile, Malcolm's stubborn love for his arrogant, incompetent son is heartbreaking, yet his dormant professional instincts slowly waken, and he unwillingly but doggedly leads the investigators, whom he's known for decades, to his own home, and his family's ruin. Scribner based his book on the actual 1992 kidnapping of an Exxon executive in New Jersey, incorporating an effective warning about the narcotic effect of materialism: Theo's enterprises foster his pathetic but unshakable self-confidence, and Colleen dreams of achieving world-class status as a Goodlife products sales rep. Theo and Colleen ring true in their myopic delusions of grandeur, as Scribner perceptively skewers their self-deception, but his talents are most potently displayed in the sensitive portrayals of auxiliary characters like the lovable, wisecracking Tiffany and her conscientious grandpa Malcolm. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This is a riveting, psychologically sophisticated first novel, based on the actual kidnapping of an Exxon executive in 1992, by an improbable pair of criminalsÄa middle-aged, suburban husband and wife who had fallen deeply into debt. The kidnappers, Theo and Colleen Wolkoviak, are skillfully drawn, and they bungle their way to disaster through a mixture of bad judgment, monstrous self-absorption, and a thoroughly misplaced sense of entitlement. Theo is blustery, given to self-aggrandizement, and thoroughly unlikable. Colleen is a willing participant in the crime, but she grows increasingly anxious as complications arise. The story is told from several different points of view, which heightens the tension of the story considerably as we move from Theo, to Colleen, to their victim, who struggles mightily in his captivity with doubts about the women he has loved, the life he has led, and the choices he has made. Recommended for all public libraries.ÄPatrick Sullivan, Manchester Community-Technical Coll., CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.