The Challenge

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Allen’s book chronicles the lives of three unemployed people who were willing to follow his advice about how to start building a real estate empire. Within ninety days, he promised, each would be able to make $5,000 or more and would master skills that would allow them to be independent for a lifetime. Allen by no means suggests that everyone is suited for this challenge. Indeed, the people chosen had to prove that they were energetic and determined even before they were accepted. The success of each person, however, bears out Allen’s basic premises that there are still many opportunities for wealth and that his system can yield dramatic results.

Readers may approach this book on any number of levels. Some will be interested particularly in the ups and downs of the three pupils; Allen structures the book like an emotional, suspenseful melodrama. Others will be more interested in the specific suggestions that Allen makes, both about real estate investing and also about personal growth: The book is in large part a primer on developing “winning” habits, presumably applicable outside the investment arena. Finally, the book will also interest some as a new affirmation of the American dream: Allen is perfectly in tune with the Reagan-era philosophy that envisions true Americans as entrepreneurs with unlimited horizons.

The deficiencies of the book, though, are as glaring as its attractions. The self-help ethic preached throughout is supported by a curious crew of authorities, including Ann Landers, Dizzy Dean, Robert Blake, and Rocky Balboa. Allen gives particular advice about how to find opportunities to buy low and sell high, but his strategy rests ultimately on a version of the theory that there is a sucker born every minute. At bottom, Allen instructs his proteges how to take advantage of human misery (especially at foreclosures) or ignorance (sellers not knowing the market value of their property). He successfully meets the challenge of making a profit but blithely avoids any moral challenge to his methods.

These deficiencies will not keep the book from being a best-seller, nor from being a revealing sign of the times from which it springs: times of great opportunity for wealth and for equally great irresponsibility.