What does it mean to be have wealth? Does it free you from want or enslave you as sure as does its opposite? Does money blunt desire – or increase it? These are the questions author Ramona Ausubel explores (but with a far lighter touch) in her lovely novel, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, a selection for Amazon's Best Books of June. How does Ausubel know so much about the topic, and about the magic that can result from freedom? Read on:
Once upon a time, people in my family had lots of money. There was a steel company, a well-known architect and a family that had been rich for so long they couldn’t imagine ever not being rich. There were chauffeurs, cooks, nannies, horses, custom built sailboats, country houses, voyages to Europe on fine ships with porters to carry giant leather trunks filled with silk dresses and even a private island in the Caribbean. There were also all the strictures of the upper class—women were meant to hold one space and men another; ideas of race extremely narrow and not quick to change.
I grew up with these stories and some of the objects from that time—those leather trunks, the tattered lace dresses inside, journals from the family’s many voyages—but I didn’t grow up with the riches. My grandfather remembered being driven as a child in a limousine through depression-era Chicago. For the rest of his life he carried the question of why he deserved to be on the inside of the car while others struggled so much on the outside. He didn’t deserve it, is what he felt. No one did. He opened a much-loved school and gave most of the rest of his wealth away. When she inherited the family estate, my grandmother turned it into an artists’ and writers’ colony. By the time I came along, wealth was only a story.
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Though the characters in Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty (who are entirely fictional, I would note) come from the highest rungs of the economic ladder, none of us is free from the questions I found myself asking about having and not having. We are all better off than than some and poorer than others. Money frees us and enslaves us just like desire does. It’s difficult to separate who we are from the story of our fortunes.
When I thought of this family and what I inherited, I thought of art and once-upon-a-time riches, and I also thought of adventure. Those leather steamer trunks and the hand-built sailboat and the winter houses and summerhouses.
What if, I asked myself, a family had everything and then suddenly, all that everything was gone? What journeys might those people depart on in attempts to find their own true selves? What seas, what roads, what imagined worlds would make the prism of desire and ownership make sense?
Imagine a wife on a westward road trip with a giant man, a husband sets his sails on a course for a tropical island and a trio of children turn their suburban backyard into a land of endless possibility. The family searches unfamiliar places for the truth of their own lives. Some kinds of love and hunger disappear while others, they find, are worth the struggle.