Picks and Pans Review: Present Value

updated 09/15/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/2003 01:00AM

By Sabin Willet
Critic's Choice

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This Beantown Bonfire of the Vanities tracks Tom Wolfe closely, at times slavishly, but in his breakthrough third novel, Willet, a Boston lawyer, is nearly as hilarious as the master. And he adds something Bonfire lacks: someone to root for. Brilliant but easygoing, Fritz Brubaker coasts as a mid-level exec at a toy company, leaving time for sailing. His lawyer wife, Linda, a pinstriped piranha who checks e-mail during dinner, thinks he's lazy. Then a lying CEO and a panicky post-9/11 stock market bankrupt Fritz's company. The deeply honorable Fritz faces prison.

Willet dissects America's business class, from how they cheat on their spouses (quickly, so they can get back to their Blackberries) to how they cheat stockholders in bankruptcy, and he bares their secret motivation: the fear, above all, of being "subject to criticism." Willet's stock is going through the roof. (Villard, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Smart investment

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