I always enjoy partnering with Inkberry Books in Niwot, Colorado because I’m always recommended such interesting titles. This week, I had the pleasure to review Bruce McDougall’s novel, The Lizards of Palm Beach.
This is a tale about two brothers, a gold-digging teen, a flamboyant art dealer, a Jeffrey Epstein-like art collector, and other people (mainly rich) who live in the Palm Beach area. Let me tell you–it’s a doozy. There’s obviously art, a discussion (and critique) about both the search for and the value of money, there are a couple of super fancy parties, and sadly, two deaths. Let’s get into it.
(Oh, and you can check out my vlog here!)
This story starts out in media-res, which is when the story starts in the middle of the action rather than the beginning, and I think gives it a very captivating hook. Immediately, we’re in the middle of the narrator–who appears to have “written” the story–explaining how he met a wealthy friend at an art gallery. This gallery is central to the story, because Lizards isn’t about the narrator’s friend, it’s about an artist formerly handled by the gallery, and his story is quite dramatic.
In the next part of the book, we are introduced to Mark Rondell and Mary Louise Hobsbawn who are on their way to the M2 gallery to meet Darius Pierre. He agrees to sell Rondell’s lizard sculptures they present him, on the condition that jewels are added, and so begins the story of fraternal betrayal (or at least one brother taking advantage of the other) while also exploring the idea of wealth and what it can do to a person.
Wealth is at the center of the book. Dwayne Forbes, Rondell’s brother, acknowledges that money’s needed to live, but he doesn’t like it, believing that it’s evil. Forbes is in the minority because both Rondell and Hobsbawn desperately want it and will do nearly anything to get it. The rest of the Palm Beach cast, including Pierre, his patron Melanie Merriwether, Keith Kleppman and crew all equate money to power and are constantly trying to out-do each other with their overspending. I don’t want to give too much away, but this competition and showmanship provides both setting and plot for the middle section of the book.
Overall, it’s a great read–it’s entertaining, the characters are well developed, and I really thought it was interesting how McDougall uses the sale of the lizard sculptures and art, more broadly, to discuss wealth. This is a book that’s character-driven rather than plot driven. So, if you’re a fan of a lot of action and events, this book doesn’t have it. Instead, McDougall uses the art world as a sort of lens through which to view human nature. This is accomplished especially by the juxtaposition of Dwayne, who doesn’t like money, and everyone else who are greedy and use wealth as a means of exercising (or gaining) power.
I also liked the references to real life that were sprinkled throughout the book; for example, there’s a reference to Vic Damone’s death and a number of references to the president “who likes to vacation at Mar-a-Lago.” Eventually, McDougall does mention Trump by name, but once I had those two clues, I realized the book took place sometime around 2018-19. This was a fun little addition to the book because by doing so, McDougall really grounded the story in current times.A short novel, Lizards can appeal to a number of readers–those who like fiction, those who don’t “love to read,” those who like realistic stories rather than fantastical ones. So, if you’re looking for a relatively quick read that looks at human nature–through the lens of wealth/art–this is a great choice for you. However, as mentioned at the beginning of the review, one character is kind of reminiscent of Jeffrey Epstein. Remember Mary Louise, Rondell’s friend? She “recruits” her friends to go to parties that they probably shouldn’t be going to, much to the detriment of one particular friend. So, if allusions to inappropriate acts with minors is triggering, be aware that this is a minor subplot.