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Review: 'Too Much Money' is Dominick Dunne's satirical swan song

When an author dies, so, too, must his alter ego. But with the posthumous publication of Too Much Money, society journalist, novelist and man about town Gus Bailey has outlived his creator, Dominick Dunne, who died of bladder cancer in August. Too Much Money is a rueful swan song, a fluffy satire with mortality at its heart.

Augustus Bailey and other characters in this book debuted in Dunne's bestselling People Like Us, a novel of '80s excess among the New York Social Register set. Bailey's misfortunes, like Dunne's, include the murder of his daughter by her ex-boyfriend. His primary employer is a magazine called Park Avenue (i.e., Vanity Fair), for which he covered the trials of characters like Claus von Bulow, William Kennedy Smith and the Menendez brothers.

Despite its title, many of the characters in Too Much Money are having financial problems. Winkie Williams, New York's greatest "walker" — a dashing gay guy who escorts rich ladies to parties — is preyed on by arrivistes as he plots the overdose that will get him out of a slow death by cancer. Winkie is "riddled with cancer," as he and his glitzy friends say over and over; the trivializing quality of phrases like this is one of the things Dunne gets just right. Equally trivializing are their preppy names — Winkie and Maisie, Bratsie and Bunny — especially now that they're all senior citizens.

Winkie's friend Gus has cancer, too, which he believes was caused by stress from "a monstrously unpleasant experience involving some monstrously unpleasant people." Like Dunne, Gus relied on an unsubstantiated tip to accuse a congressman, Kyle Cramden (Gary Condit), of involvement in the case of missing intern Diandra Lomax (Chandra Levy) and is being sued by the meanest lawyer in the world for $11 million.

Dunne died the same day as Teddy Kennedy; Dunne's New York Times obituary included (in the first paragraph) the information that his family tried to delay the announcement of his death to avoid having his coverage overshadowed by that of the senator. Can you imagine that, Bratsie?

Too Much Money

By Dominick Dunne

Crown, 275 pages, $26

Review: 'Too Much Money' is Dominick Dunne's satirical swan song 01/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 3:30am]

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