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Breaking the Bank

Breaking the Bank, September 2009
by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Downstream Publishing
Featuring: Mia Saul
368 pages
ISBN: 1439102538
EAN: 9781439102534
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"Who said having all the money in the world would bring you happiness?"

Fresh Fiction Review

Breaking the Bank
Yona Zeldis McDonough

Reviewed by Viki Ferrell
Posted August 11, 2009

Women's Fiction Contemporary | Contemporary Chick Lit

"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.

Learn more about Breaking the Bank



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 out.


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 station.

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.

"So 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 later.

"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 myself."

"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. Interesting."

"So you had to cut your hair?"

"Well, you wouldn't let me get a nose ring." She waited a beat and then asked, "Would you?"

The teacher, whose name simply would not coalesce in Mia's mind, cleared her throat discreetly before speaking.

"We thought that it might be a good idea for the two of you to see Ms. Jaglow. You can call tomorrow to make an appointment..."

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 in private.

"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 walk home.

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 reading them.

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 big.

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.

"There's no magic at Target, Mia," Lloyd said; his condescension dripped like honey.

"She needs new underwear, not magic," Mia said.

"Were you always so humdrum?" asked Lloyd.

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.

Then quite 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; in fact,...

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