The Goodlife

by Keith Scribner

GOODLIFE is tagged on the back cover as being "Based On a True
Story" --- and indeed, it is a very fictionalized account of an
actual event, that being the ransom kidnapping of a high profile
CEO by a desperately broke suburban couple a few years ago. But
even if you happen to know that particular story by chapter and
verse, you will still find reading THE GOODLIFE a rewarding
Keith Scribner, author of THE GOODLIFE, wisely chose to focus
his literary camera on the emotions of the principals involved. The
reader accordingly gets to take long, revealing looks into the
psyches of members of two families, the Wolkoviaks and the Browns,
whose lives are about to collide and be irrevocably changed for the
worse. Theo Wolkoviak is on the long downside of 40. He is married
to his high school sweetheart, a homecoming queen princess who can
still turn heads, and has a son in college and a daughter with an
eating disorder that appears to be out of control. Wolkoviak has
two major problems: an inability to control his impulses and an
ability to blame everyone but himself for anything in his life that
goes wrong. A series of job terminations and financial reversals
leave him and his family no option but to return to the home of his
parents to live and to hopefully regroup. Malcolm Wolkoviak, a
former police chief who is inexorably succumbing to emphysema, can
spot the results of his son's weaknesses but is unable to see the
root causes, giving his son opportunity after opportunity to redeem
himself long after any redemption is reasonably possible. Theo
purportedly is working on a major project for the president of a
local country club, a project he claims will straighten out his
financial problems. What Theo and his wife are plotting, however,
is the kidnapping for ransom of Stona Brown, an oil company CEO,
for 18 million dollars.
has everything plotted down to the last detail, and it is here that
Scribner demonstrates that he has the chops to become a major
literary talent. He quite deftly presents Theo as a man who is
detail-oriented yet, before a single element of the kidnapping is
carried out, also shows him to carry the seeds of his own
destruction and failure. It is quite clear within the first few
pages of THE GOODLIFE that if Theo succeeds it's going to be by
accident. It is far more likely that for all his attention to plan
and detail things are going to go horribly wrong for Theo, his
wife, his children, and his parents --- and, of course, for Stona
as well. As the story of Theo's big plans unfold, we learn his
motivation, his wife's pie-in-the-sky-dreams, and the secret sins
of all involved. Yet as one dream decomposes and simultaneously
explodes, in the end another is born. No one wins in THE GOODLIFE;
a couple of people, however, break even. Sometimes that is the best
that can be expected.
GOODLIFE is Scribner's first novel; he reportedly is working on a
second, which, on the strength of THE GOODLIFE, should be worth a
long, lingering loo k. This is an important work that reads as if
it was a collaboration between John Cheever and Donald Westlake.
Very highly recommended.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

The Goodlife
by Keith Scribner

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2000
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 277 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade
  • ISBN-10: 1573228346
  • ISBN-13: 9781573228343