Making Money

Making MoneyMaking Money by Owen Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The story of four English lads that went to New York to make their fortune in life. There’s only one problem with that premise; they weren’t English; they were American boys from an ivy league school. The disconnect is irreconcilable.

The story, set in the early twentieth century, starts plausibly enough, with Johnson painting a picture of the New York City landscape that sounds strikingly like a scene you might experience today. But the plausibility falls apart after that. The main character is Tom Crocker, nicknamed ‘Bojo,’ son of a mill owner, and if not born with a silver spoon, certainly some kind of precious metal. It appears as if Owen Johnson is English, and either has never been to New York-or America for that matter, or wasn’t there long enough to gather that the culture and slang of the day was quite different than what would have been found in England at the time. The result is that the dialogue and actions of the characters are decidedly English, using an American backdrop. It would have sounded much more realistic if this had been about four lads from Cambridge who went to London to make their fortune. Instead, it became an absurd melding to two cultures that can’t be reconciled here, or on the other side of the pond. Everyone they interacted with were English as well. I attempted to use my imagination and pretend they were in England, but Johnson beats us over the head with the fact that these guys are American. Can’t escape what he intended to convey nor the mish-mash that this story actually was.

That’s rot/a bully tackle/what the deuce…

Not the kind of language you would hear from an American, but common enough in England. But Johnson repeatedly reminds us that these are Americans , making it impossible to forget.

As far as the actual story goes, Bojo goes to New York to make his own way, after rejecting his father’s offer of a cushy position at the mill. His father gives him $50,000 that he is free to blow as he pleases, and is welcome back anytime when he blows it. This book was published in 1915. Do the math on what 50k was worth back then.

A simple Purchasing Power Calculator would say the relative value is $1,230,000.00. This answer is obtained by multiplying $50000 by the percentage increase in the CPI from 1915 to 2016.*

That’s what he had to throw away! But he wanted to make his own fortune, although he happily took dad’s money. But the gravy train didn’t stop there. His girlfriend was the daughter of one of the richest men around, and he too offered to line Bojo’s pocket with little or no effort. But Bojo wanted to make his own way, although he acted on a tip from his presumed future father-in-law to make a fortune for himself very quickly. It seems to me that Johnson was a little confused on what a dollar was actually worth, and uses some pretty ridiculous numbers, making it very difficult to know just how rich these folks actually were.

Despite Bojo want to make his own way, he certainly wasn’t averse to taking advantage of all that was available to him when it suited him. Although his rich, hot girlfriend would be happy to marry him, he was interested in her sister Patsie, supposedly a 17-year-old, but with a personality like a 10-year old. Apparently, Johnson hadn’t spent much time around teenagers. Either that, or he was just having a meltdown at the time he was introducing the character in the story. He described her as having golden hair that tumbled to her shoulders, but a few pages later referenced her shortened hair. He also describes the first meeting between her and Bojo, with her wearing a ‘short dress,’ but the book is illustrated and shows her in a full length gown in that first meeting.

Johnson also has the annoying habit of talking about one person, and in the next referring to someone else, only referring to them as “he,” so it takes a few lines-even a few paragraphs to realize that he is indeed talking about another character.

The overriding theme in this book is that Wall Street is evil and destroys lives. Well, you could say that about any industry. There are myriad ways of destruction, but Johnson takes the proletariat view that rich people are generally selfish and uncaring of other human beings. Again, you could say that about…Pretty easy for Bojo to take this attitude; he had a fat cushion he could fall back on that most will never have. He never saw it that way, and neither did Johnson, who created the character.

The book could have been a three star, despite its defects, but I couldn’t get past the English thing, and that cost it a star. A generous 2 star for this one.

* source: www.measuringworth.com

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