Give and Take By Stona Fitch
I received Give and Take by Stona Fitch for free from Concord Free Press, which is doing this wacky experiment on “publishing and community” as they explain on their website. Now, part of the deal is I then HAVE to give the book to someone else, which is fine, as my htmlgiant secret santa will be getting it. Also you HAVE to give money away, which again is fine; this time of year I give money away anyway. But in a more general sense, my problem with all this is- I hate people telling me what to do. Nearly always, when someone tells me what to do, my eyes blur a bit and some weird rage lets lose in my brain. Once, I went to a Bikram Yoga class and it was in this heated room and the teacher started the class by saying, “even if you get really hot and feel faint and like you may barf or die and so you want to leave the room, YOU MAY NOT. You cannot leave the room! You can lay down for awhile, but you can’t leave.” Now, people, what happened was, eventually, I felt hot and shitty and I left the room! If someone says do this or you can’t do that- six and half times out of ten, I’m going to do the opposite. Every time my husband says “let’s just split desert” after we’ve had some insanely enormous dinner and we can barely move, I then order three. (One good thing is, he no longer says this for the most part. So now I mostly order two.)
But I digress. Give and Take is a book that chews on issues, a novel of ideas, and something I normally wouldn’t read. I like to read books I normally wouldn’t read, as long as I don’t have to do that twice a week, like when I worked in publishing. And Finch has a good mind, a clean prose style and moves the book along very nicely.
When I think of novels written basically around ideas, meaning, the characters and plot all exist to contemplate actual concepts the author clearly finds himself obsessed with- I think of Lord Of The Flies and 1984 at first. But then there is Philip K. Dick’s work and even some of Doris Lessing’s fiction can be read this way. In other words, there is a great variety of novels that succeed at this, many of them are scifi, but not always.
But back to Give and Take. Told in the first person, the narrator is a jazz piano player by the name of Ross Wolfshead (that name is actually quite symbolic), who travels the country playing high end hotels, stealing diamonds and BMWs expertly, and giving away the money he makes to random people who look as if they might need it. Now, one of the more fun twists is that he manages to steal the diamonds by being an amazing- get this- finger fucker. There is a lot of material on his fingers, the magic they produce on the piano, the women, the diamond extractions, and so forth. His brother is also a crook- a counterfeiter, to be exact- and at one point sends his own son, Ross’s nephew Cray, to join Ross on his life on the road. Cray figures out what Ross is up to and some chaos ensues, but not anything too predictable. And of course, Ross falls for another crook, a lovely lady named Marianne, and this too provides another twist to the modern Robin Hood tale that is Give and Take.
Finch handles his material loosely- you don’t feel he is being didactic, rather, he is thinking on the page, and wanting the reader to think about money, worth, happiness and so on. I think about these things anyway, and although I normally don’t think about them while reading a novel, the novel was entertaining and strange enough in parts that I enjoyed it. I hope my secret santa does, too.