The Misadventures of Oliver Booth, by David Desmond
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication Date: October 1, 2008
Format: Trade Paperback, 224 pages
Oliver Booth is a self-styled “antiques dealer” selling Mexican made Louis the Fourteenth reproductions just around the corner from fashionable Worth Street in Palm Beach, Florida. As an obese, gauche and rude social climber Oliver spends his time being obnoxious to his staff (employee turnover is frequent), bathing, and not paying his bills. When high society doyenne Margaret Van Buren wanders into the shop looking for a bathroom for her grandson, she meets Oliver and his latest assistant, Bernard, and offers them an opportunity of a lifetime- an all expenses paid shopping trip to Paris to find antiques to furnish her guest house. Bernard is just happy for the opportunity to work and learn and Oliver just wants to charge Mrs. Van Buren as much commission as he possibly can, will both men be able to get what they want?
More farce than satire, The Misadventures of Oliver Booth takes a look at Palm Beach high society through high teas and parties at the nonexclusive (filthy rich is the only criteria) Morningwood Club, presided over by Margaret Van Buren. I’m not quite sure how, because he doesn’t seem to fit the only criteria, but Oliver Booth is a member of Morningwood and wants to take every opportunity to either be with or take advantage of the wealthy members of society. Oliver is despicable to be sure, but I must admit that I felt some sympathy for him if only because Bernard and Mrs. Van Buren were always trying to teach him lessons, which were usually painful, humiliating and just not that funny. I never felt that they had to interact with him so I didn’t see where anything that happened was compelling, aside from providing comic relief. Mrs. Van Buren could have chosen to deal solely with Bernard, especially since he was the one skilled enough to bring her project to completion. If I had a stronger reason for any of these people being in each other lives, or had I liked the characters more I think I would have felt differently. For all that she thinks that she has deeper insights into life and beauty, Mrs. Van Buren is a snob, and Bernard seems be both uninteresting and directionless if handsome. He follows along with whatever.
I think my difficulties with this book were that I was never quite sure what it was supposed to be. In a few places I did feel like I was getting a satirical peek at what society is like in Palm Beach, but barely more than that. Most of the situations to me seemed either heavy-handed over the top or just absurd. Oliver attends a $1,000-a-plate New Year’s Eve party at the Morningwood Club and is seated at a table all by himself (presumably because he is so obnoxious) and is told that he will have to pay extra when he would like a bit more food. Seriously? Does that happen? I don’t know, maybe. But it would have been more interesting for me for me to see high society forced to interact with the buffoon of a social climber who has paid to be a member of the club and paid again to be present at the party. The book also strangely veers off from Oliver to a long section where Bernard is playing keeper for Mrs. Van Buren’s grandson. It was strange.
I’m not much for over the top and unrealistic humor so this probably just wasn’t the book for me. But, it’s a fast read and funny in places. Most other reviews I have read seem to really enjoy recommend it so if you’re up for a farce Palm Beach style, then you might want to check it out.
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