STORIES OF THE INDEBTED by Jorge P. Newbery is a series of financial case studies, garnished with a light sprinkling of fictionalization. If you're in debt—and who isn't these days?—Newbery's collection of not-quite stories, not-quite essays might hint towards a possible solution.
Seven stories complete the collection, and all but one of them follow one of two basic formats. In the first format, Newbery relates a story from his past in which his financial know-how gets him out of a sticky monetary situation. In the second format, he helps a desperate acquaintance begin to resolve their massive debt using Newbery's patented formula, which he carefully explains in detail—complete with website URLs—throughout the book.
The tales of financial ducking and diving are themselves intensely interesting. Where STORIES OF THE INDEBTED falls down is in its attempt to render these tales into prose. Newbery's written style is serviceable, although a little wooden, with a lot of filler surrounding the compelling core narrative of each story. On the upside, STORIES OF THE INDEBTED is easy to read and creates some interesting images. The reader will find complex financial issues rendered comprehensible (even for those not used to dealing with these types of problems), along with some truly affecting personal tales of debt and the damage it can do—excellent stuff. Surrounding the heart, however, is a froth of minor subplots, cardboard secondary characters who exist only to praise or commend the narrator, bizarrely detailed observations about food, and repetitive semi-jokes.
STORIES OF THE INDEBTED is at its most powerful in the fifth story "Joey and the Copier." Here Newbery, for once, discards the story-about-telling-a-story format and instead directly relates a memory of a time when debt affected him personally. It's gripping. It's direct. It is fascinating to read. It simultaneously demonstrates a point about debt and tells a memorable story, but it also leaves you wishing the rest of the book had as much vigor and direction.
Nonetheless, STORIES OF THE INDEBTED remains a unique and thoroughly interesting read. It's puzzling that the book has been constructed in the way it has, but it still manages the difficult feat of not only making sense to me (someone with essentially negative interest in financial matters) but also engaging me and keeping me interested throughout. Newbery is a talented writer, though his talent lies not in penning evocative prose but in clearly and cleverly explaining issues and ideas that ordinary people might struggle even to approach. That's what brings this book to life.
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