Rich Boy

Twelve Books  2010

Robert Vishniak is the favored son of Oxford Circle, a working-class Jewish neighborhood in 1970s Philadelphia. Handsome and clever, Robert glides into the cloistered universities of New England, where scions of unimaginable wealth and influence stand shoulder to shoulder with scholarship paupers like himself who wash dishes for book money. The doors that open there lead Robert to the highest circles of Manhattan society during the heart of the Reagan boom where everything Robert has learned about women, through seduction and heartbreak, pays off. For a brief moment, he has it all-but the world in which he finds himself is not the world from which he comes, and a chance encounter with a beautiful girl from the old neighborhood-and the forgotten life she reawakens-threatens to unravel his carefully constructed new identity.

Discussion Questions

1. Robert Vishniak grows up in the 1950’s and 60’s in Oxford Circle, a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia. How does growing up in this neighborhood shape his sense of self as an adult? As a Jew? 

2. Robert’s relationship with his mother is, in many ways, at the emotional center of this novel. How does she overturn the stereotype of the Jewish mother? How does she fit it? 

3. Robert and his brother Barry have a complicated sibling rivalry. How does this influence the trajectory of the plot? Which brother garners more sympathy? 

4. The 1960’s counterculture is the backdrop for a significant part of this novel. Were the 1960’s different for Jews than for other groups? Why or why not? 

5. Robert is with a variety of women in this novel, all of whom have different relationships to their own Jewishness. How do they influence him, either positively or negatively? Is there one that you liked better than others? 

6. Among other things, this is a novel about striving for the American Dream. Does Robert achieve it, ultimately? Why or why not?

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