There are a lot of books about dysfunctional families, but Ashley Prentice Norton's The Chocolate Money, might just be the most dysfunctional of them all. Half of the time, I couldn't even believe what I was reading and yet, I was throughly hooked on the story.
The Chocolate Money is narrated by Bettina, the awkward daughter of Babs, an eccentric and abusive heiress of a chocolate company. The story follows Bettina from when she is a young child until she is in her mid-twenties. Bettina grows up in a luxury apartment in Chicago, where she is exposed to lavish parties and her mother's sexual exploits. Babs' idea of being a mother is limited to passing along adult information to Bettina at a young age, including how to please a man in bed. Babs treats Bettina like a ward that she cares for out of obligation and she doles out inappropriate advice when she is in a good mood. When she's in a bad mood, Babs lashes out at Bettina, inflicting both physical and mental wounds.
The cruelty and manipulation that Babs shows towards Bettina and in turn, Bettina uses as she grows up, is jaw-dropping. Norton has written such well developed characters that even though they go to extremes, it all remains plausible. Thankfully, there is no one in my life like these characters, but Norton writes them in a way that I believe such people can exist.
One of my favorite chapters detailed Babs' lavish theme party that she titled the "Hangover-Brunch Cruise". Babs thinks that cruises, hangovers and brunches are all inherently tacky, so she combines them into a party where the guests are to wear slutty cruise attire and come already hung-over. Babs even includes mini-liquor bottles with the invitation, which she makes Bettina hand-deliver while chauffeured by their limo driver around Chicago. It's completely outlandish, but also completely in line with the character. Norton nailed it.
Although more character driven, than plot driven, The Chocolate Money has a solid plot as Bettina attempts to find out who her father was and to find a male role model. The story has a good twist at the end, as various minor characters intersect and Babs' motives for the way she raised Bettina become more clear.
Norton's story is definitely not for everyone. It's brash, salacious and often shocking. I found it utterly compelling and impossible to put down.