(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Few first novels have been both as entertaining and as artistically controlled as Louis B. Jones’s Ordinary Money. Jones’s comic theme is the stagy California life-style, with its irresolvable mix of the real and the fake. Satire of the Californian culture can be traced at least as far as Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One (1948). Compared with Waugh’s savage fun, Jones’s satire of Californians is much kinder, gentler, and more forgiving, perhaps because he speaks as one of their own. Jones was graduated from the M.F A. program at the University of California, Irvine, and resides in Mill Valley, California.

For a novel satirizing phoniness, Ordinary Money has one glaring fault: its contrived plot. Are readers to believe that two temporarily unemployed Marin County workmen come into possession of twenty million dollars in perfect counterfeit bills and that the counterfeiter then conveniently dies of an infected fingernail? These key events form the basis of the plot of Ordinary MoneyJones manages to hide the starkness of these events by spreading them over the novel and surrounding them with a smoke screen of believable detail. Perhaps the joke is on the readers, who are conditioned to accept the contrivances of the media as reality. More sophisticated readers can also enjoy the joke, joining the author in a festival of tongue-in-cheek metafiction; as the novel’s characters themselves occasionally say, “This is fiction.”

The contrived basis of the plot is no overwhelming obstacle, and, despite any metafictional elements, Jones moves the story along in an old-fashioned way reminiscent of Charles Dickens, with multiple subplots generating many caricatures and much suspense.

The main plot concerns two beer-drinking buddies, Wayne Paschke and Randy Potts. Since they dropped out of high school, Wayne has developed into a solid family man, complete with paunch. Randy has become an older version of his foot-loose high-school days: He “still wore the same size jeans as in high school…had divorced Mary neatly and with good humor…and in the same swift motion bought a convertible Camaro.” When a smooth-talking counterfeiter named Bim Auctor places an advertisement for a “’general secretary/handy man, w/some financial savvy,’” Randy answers it and is groomed by Auctor to launder the fake money. In return, Randy gets supposedly foolproof and fail-safe legal protection and freedom to spend as much as he wants.

Randy soon involves the even more gullible Wayne, who is conned into sending a sample counterfeit bill twice to the Secret Service for testing: The bill is certified to be genuine both times. Randy also hides a wooden box containing two million dollars in Wayne’s garage. By the time Randy has finished depositing nine other such boxes in various banks, Auctor has mysteriously disappeared and the FBI begins looking for Randy. Before the...

(The entire section is 1187 words.)