Brewster’s MillionsApril 16, 2012
George Barr McCutcheon’s name comes up a lot when I’m looking up information about early 20th century adventure novels, or when I’m looking through advertisements in magazines like The Bookman. Sometimes the books his name appears in conjunction with sound interesting. But I hated Graustark. I hated Graustark so much.
Still, I’ve felt for a while now that I ought to give McCutcheon a second chance. And Brewster’s Millions, his other most famous book, seemed like the obvious thing to try.
You may know the story from one of the ten different film adaptations: Monty Brewster inherits a million dollars from his grandfather, and then a week later he finds out that his long-lost uncle has also died, leaving him over six million dollars. The catch is that he can’t have the six million unless he manages to spend the one million from his grandfather within a year.
There are all kinds of conditions, too — Monty can’t spend too much on charity or gifts or gambling, he has to get rid of even the things he buys with the money by the end of the year, and he can’t tell anyone why he’s being so recklessly extravagant, so as the year wears on, most of his acquaintances come to believe he’s insane.
And the thing is, it’s an incredibly captivating story. I found myself rooting for Monty in his mad dash for poverty, somewhat against my will, and alternately giggling and cringing when his friends staged interventions. McCutcheon does a really good job at conveying the magnitude of the task and Monty’s increasing isolation as he tries to complete it.
The only problem, really, is that George Barr McCutcheon is George Barr McCutcheon, and Monty Brewster is, basically, Grenfall Lorry. I hated him for the first half of the book. But there are mitigating factors, and he grew on me. Monty Brewster isn’t a stalker, or prone to the kind of bad decision-making that makes you wish that he could get the gruesome death he so richly deserves. And the majority of the romance made me cringe, but I chose to blame that on McCutcheon rather than Monty.
Really, Monty’s only questionable decision is taking on his uncle’s challenge in the first place. He’s got a million dollars. It’s 1902. He doesn’t actually need any more. But that’s okay, because it’s a really fun book. And because the challenge leads to Monty’s correspondence with his uncle’s executor, Swearengen Jones, which is maybe the best part of the story.