Recession horror story has an important message

"The Leading Indicators" is the latest novel from Gregg Easterbrook, whom many people know as a contributor to ESPN.com or from his previous successful novel, "The Here and Now."

His new book is billed as a "parable about one American family's fall from grace during the recession." This is the perfect description of "The Leading Indicators."

Although it reads mostly like a novel, the characters are exaggerated — and the plot is manipulated — so Easterbrook can make statements about the recession in the United States as well as his beliefs about politics, big business and the working class.

This is not a book where you will be lost in the drama or in love with the often selfish and ridiculous characters. But it is a story that will find readers nodding their heads, examining their own lives and discussing the book with their family and friends.

The plot focuses on Margo and Tom Helot, who have the "perfect life" when the book opens. He works for a financial firm, and she's a stay-at-home mom with two daughters in a huge house where money is never a concern.

The beginning is a little slow as readers are introduced to the Helots and their friends, but the pace quickly picks up when Tom learns from a "friend" that the company he works for is going bankrupt due to fraud — and Tom will lose everything.

This begins a downward spiral for the Helots because it's late 2007. Although Easterbrook is penning a fictional story, he sets it in the real U.S. economic climate of the period: It's difficult to get a job; businesses are going under; houses are in foreclosure.

Tom and Margo face this and more — from losing their house to working minimum wage jobs to taking their daughters out of private school and enrolling them in less than desirable public schools. They deal with judgment from former friends and colleagues and a whole new set of worries about being able to pay their bills and where they should buy their groceries. Tom's health declines while he also loses his health insurance.

The refreshing part of this novel, and the one that I was not expecting, is the exploration of Tom and Margo's relationship. Many authors would have chosen to have unresolved marital problems for the couple during this economic downfall, but they remain in love.

Maybe things aren't as easy for them. Maybe they aren't as romantic as before. But they stick it out, and their marriage does not end in divorce as I was expecting — and which would have been absolutely believable.

In the end, Tom is driven to extreme measures to take care of his family. He is a proud man who feels like he failed his family, although readers will be able to see that the Helots are actually victims of the bad economy and guilty of basically poor financial planning. The book ends in October 2010, when the "Dow Jones index returns to the level of 2001."

Easterbrook continues to work as a writer and contributes to The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and The Washington Monthly. He lists other jobs he has had as a bartender, a bus driver and a used-car salesman. He lives outside of Washington, D.C., with his wife and is the father of three children. If you are interested in finding other books or writings of Easterbrook's, visit http://www.greggeasterbrook.com.

"The Leading Indicators" is a fast read with an important message — one that you might agree with. The best part of this novel is the characters of Tom and Margo and their refreshing love that makes it through a tough time for many Americans in our recent history.

Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.

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