"The love of money is the root of all evil." It can't buy
you happiness; and it can be a curse. Ask Mia Saul. Mia is
divorced, living with her daughter, Eden, in a crumby
apartment and doesn't even have a permanent job. Money
could solve a lot of her problems. It would help if her ex-
husband, Lloyd Prescott, would just pay child support.
Money is not Mia's only problem. She is still resolving
issues from her divorce, and her daughter, Eden, is
misbehaving at school, probably a result of that divorce.
Eden also has become a very picky eater recently. When the
school calls Lloyd in an effort to try to resolve Eden's
problems, the whole family gets involved and they seem to
all turn against Mia.
When Mia uses the last cash she has to purchase some
expensive "organic" groceries to entice Eden to eat, she
goes into the bank to use the ATM. She notices the machine
seems a little different; the light on the screen dims and
then returns. When she extracts her cash, instead of five
$10 bills, she gets five $20s. However, her receipt only
shows a withdrawal of $100.
This pattern repeats itself on her next few visits to this
same machine, yet begins to give out $100 bills instead of
$20s. Mia saves most of the money in a shoe box in her
closet, but gives some of it away to the homeless on the
street and anonymously to her neighbors. Then one day, as
she withdraws only another $100, Mia receives a crisp,
almost new-looking $10,000 bill. There is a message on the
machine's screen: "A gift for you, Mia. Use it well."
Her research tells her that $10,000 bills have not been in
circulation for some time. She finds a buyer through the
Yellow Pages and visits him. But he won't buy because she
won't reveal her source. Her boyfriend, Fred, sets up a
meeting for her with someone named Weed. Weed offers her
$50,000 for the bill, no questions asked. She takes it.
When Weed turns up murdered a few days later, the police
come looking for Mia. The unexplained bill has been found
on him and she has plenty of motive. After all, the bill is
worth twice what Weed gave her. But Mia will not reveal her
source. She knows no one will believe her anyway. Mia is
arrested and has to appear in court where she finally
reveals to the judge where she got the bill. Will the magic
return one more time? Will the machine execute its
philanthropy to exonerate Mia?
This novel is an exciting read; you're never quite sure
where the story is going. Follow Mia in her journey as she
adopts the mantra "use it well" to do good for those who
are less fortunate. For you environmentalists out there,
McDonough has incorporated "green living" in a brilliant
way throughout the story. You are sure to enjoy this novel.
Mia Saul is down on her
luck. Dumped by her husband, jettisoned from her job, and
estranged from her adored older brother, she and her young
daughter, Eden, have had to make a downscale move to a
crummy apartment, where their neighbors include a tough
young drug dealer and a widower who lets his dogs use the
hallways as their own personal litter box. Juggling a series
of temporary jobs, wrangling with her ex-husband over child
support, and trying to keep pace with Eden's increasingly
erratic behavior have left Mia weary and worn
EXCEPT WHEN IT IS
So when a
seemingly functional ATM starts handing Mia thousands and
thousands of dollars -- and not deducting the money from her
account, because it sure isn't in there -- she isn't about
to give it back. Her newfound cash stash opens up a world of
opportunity, and a whole lot of trouble. Worried friends,
family, and in-laws start questioning her judgment about
everything, and the cops really, really want to know where
all that cash is coming from. And then there's Patrick, a
man Mia most definitely would never have met if things
hadn't spun out of control. Mia is beginning to think that
maybe somebody, somewhere, is trying to teach her a lesson
about what matters in life, and what doesn't....
Mia Saul was late -- again. She raced down the stairs of the
subway station, an overstuffed canvas bag of produce hauled
from the greenmarket thumping uncomfortably against her hip.
Just as she reached the platform, which, despite the
pleasant coolness of the September day, still held the
wretched August heat, not one but two trains -- the N
express and the R local -- pulled out simultaneously. Mia
watched the retreating red lights and wanted to cry. This
was the third time in a week she would be late picking up
her daughter, Eden, from afterschool, the third time she
would have to contend with the teacher, who would no doubt
charge her the fee no matter how profuse her apology, the
third time she would have to face her sullen child, standing
outside the double doors of the gym and dragging the toe of
her new forty-dollar Converse high-tops across the pavement
in furious, stabbing lines.
However, instead of
crying, Mia pulled an apple from the bag and, after giving
it a surreptitious wipe on the front of her shirt, took a
big, noisy bite. A woman standing nearby turned to look, and
Mia, embarrassed, stepped away, making sure that her next
bite was not so loud. She hadn't eaten lunch, and she was
ravenous. She consumed the apple in tiny, fastidious
mouthfuls, not only because she wanted to be quiet, but also
to make the fruit last. The organic Macouns, the pear cider,
the goat cheese, and the tangy cheddar in her bag were
really too expensive for her budget these days, but were
purchased in the hopes of getting Eden to eat. Eden's eating
was just one more thing Mia had to worry about. As of June,
Eden had stopped eating meat or poultry of any kind, and
just last week she announced that fish was off her list,
too. Rather than engage in yet one more battle, Mia had
chosen to pursue a tack of enticement and temptation. She
figured she had to try -- for all she knew, next month Eden
would eschew dairy products, too.
Finally, an R train
rumbled in and Mia worked her way through the throng so that
she was right in front of the double doors when they slid
open. Good thing, too -- some of the people waiting behind
her didn't get to board before the doors closed and the
train began its journey to Brooklyn. Twenty-five minutes
later, Mia was bounding up the staircase at the Union Street
It was ten past six when Mia turned the
corner onto First Street. As she anticipated, Eden was
waiting outside with a lone teacher who was checking her
watch, probably not for the first time, either. But the
thing Mia did not, could not, anticipate was the fact that
Eden's hair, or rather half of it, had been hacked off, as
if by an inept scalper who had suddenly lost his nerve. On
the left was the braid that Mia remembered her daughter
plaiting this morning; on the right, an angry bristle,
scarcely more than an inch long.
"Who did that to
you?" Mia burst out. "I'll have them expelled." She put the
bag down, panting with an ugly combination of exertion,
stress, and shock.
"Eden's teacher tried calling -- "
began the woman whose name Mia could not recall.
why didn't you reach me?" But even as she spat the words,
Mia remembered that she had turned off her cell phone during
an editorial meeting and neglected to turn it back on
"I know they left messages," the woman
continued. "At least two." She glanced over to Eden, who had
so far not said anything. "Why don't I let Eden tell you
what happened." She turned to Eden and waited. Still
nothing. "Eden," she began again, in a cloyingly sweet
voice. "Eden, we're waiting."
"No one did it to
me," said Eden, sounding too jaded for someone who had only
recently entered the double digits. "I did it
"You cut half your hair off? Why?" All of
Mia's righteous, maternal indignation evaporated in an
instant, leaving her drained and reeling.
"It was in
art class. We were doing self-portraits, and they were all
so boring. I wanted mine to be different.
"So you had to cut your
"Well, you wouldn't let me get a nose ring."
She waited a beat and then asked, "Would you?"
teacher, whose name simply would not coalesce in Mia's mind,
cleared her throat discreetly before speaking.
thought that it might be a good idea for the two of you to
see Ms. Jaglow. You can call tomorrow to make an
Ms. Jaglow was the school
psychologist. Although it was only the end of September, Mia
had already met with Eden's teacher, the principal, and the
learning specialist whose job it was to diagnose kids who
had what were euphemistically called "special needs."
Special, my ass, thought Mia, the first time she had
heard the term applied to funny, brilliant, and, she had to
admit, increasingly weird Eden. They don't mean special.
They mean nuts.
"Yes, of course, I'll call her
first thing in the morning," Mia said now, deciding that
what she needed to do was get Eden home, away from this
woman, to have whatever conversation they were going to have
"Good; I'll tell her she can expect to
hear from you," said the teacher, who glanced at her watch a
final time. Mia knew that this meant she would be charged
the late fee for the day, but she was too upset and too
exhausted to plead. She touched Eden on the shoulder; Eden
readjusted her backpack slightly and they began the short
Mia sent several covert, searching looks
Eden's way, but Eden steadfastly ignored her and kept her
eyes straight ahead. Mia felt tears begin a nasty, hot trail
down her cheeks, and she turned her face away. She wished
she could talk to Lloyd about all this. Lloyd was her best
friend/lover/soul mate/husband. And now ex. He was big --
six feet four, size fourteen shoes. Big hands, big jaw, big
nose arching proudly over a big, handsome face. Oh, and big
dick, too, though it mattered way more to him than to her.
They had been together since college; Mia thought that they
would be together forever. Wrong. The signs had been there
for a while; she had just been idiotically slow about
Lloyd made documentaries about
premodern workers in a postmodern world. He followed
postmen, hospital orderlies, and grave diggers throughout
their days, finding the hidden poetry in the mundane. He
made a film about a man who owned a shoe-repair place tucked
in an arcade at the Thirty-fourth Street subway station,
another about the woman who sold empanadas on a street
corner in Spanish Harlem.
His last project had been
about the Asian women who worked in the nail salons all over
the city. Bits and pieces of their stories came glinting
into his conversation: one had come from Vietnam at the age
of twelve; another had perfected the painting of minuscule
lilies on individual nails. Mia had not been paying
attention, or she would have noticed that one name, Suim,
kept cropping up. Suim this. Suim that.
Lloyd left her
for Suim -- blubbering noisily as he said good-bye --
maintaining he couldn't help himself, he loved Suim
beyond words, beyond measure, and that if he stayed
with Mia, he'd be living a lie. Instead, he had chosen to
live in Queens with Suim, and he actually thought Mia should
be happy for him because he had found this unexpected gift,
this enduring, monumental, deathless love, when he was still
young enough to appreciate it. That was Lloyd all right, so
thoroughly enamored of the worthiness of his own desires. So
authentic, so passionate in his own adoring eyes. So goddamn
Once a week he came to pick up Eden, and though
he could be generous, even lavish with her during these
visits, he was spotty about child support, claiming that he
didn't have the money, he'd get the money, please, please,
please, could she not make everything about the money? Eden
returned from these weekends with tales of the fancy
restaurant in Manhattan where they had eaten crepes oozing
with chocolate and apricot jam, or clasping a bag from
Barneys -- Barneys! A place Mia wouldn't even walk past,
much less actually shop in -- filled with fanciful,
impractical clothes. Mia felt sick when she thought about
the black hand-knit sweater with the marabou collar that
Eden adored -- and lost the very first time she wore it. Or
the long, pleated silk skirt, winking with tiny mirrors,
that was useless at school, on the playground, or just about
anywhere else that Eden actually went.
"Take her to
Target and give me the rest for groceries!" she begged Lloyd
when he dropped Eden off, this time with a stuffed toy
giraffe that was taller than she was.
magic at Target, Mia," Lloyd said; his condescension dripped
"She needs new underwear, not magic," Mia
"Were you always so humdrum?" asked
Humdrum pays the bills, she wanted to
say. But when they quarreled, Eden would get very quiet and
start twisting a piece of her own skin -- elbow, cheek,
thigh -- until it turned pink and eventually blue, so with
great effort, Mia controlled herself.
abruptly, Lloyd decided to pick up and travel with Suim to
Asia; he would not say how long he planned to be gone. At
first, he was good about staying in touch, showering Eden
with postcards, with gifts: a red lacquer box, an
expensive-looking doll with a parasol, an enormous fan. But
after a couple of months, nothing -- not a word, not a
forwarding address. Eden was alternately furious and weepy;
Mia was sure part of her daughter's behavior was linked to
Lloyd's disappearance, and she planned to mention this to
the psychologist tomorrow.
Mia rummaged in her bag for
her key. Their building was right on Fourth Avenue, a
cheerless corridor filled with auto-body shops, car washes,
and discount beverage warehouses. Traffic whizzed by all day
and night; the multilane thoroughfare was bisected by
narrow, weedinfested islands littered with broken glass,
flattened beer cans, and used condoms. But Fourth Avenue was
changing and the rising hulks of big new buildings --
co-ops, condos -- were crowding the sidewalks, grabbing at
the sky. These behemoths boasted pools and gyms, parking
garages and doormen. None of this would help Mia and Eden;