Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review: Pen Pals

Title: Pen Pals


Author: Olivia Goldsmith

Date: 2002

Publisher: Penguin / Signet

ISBN: none

Length: 415 pages

Quote: “It was very difficult for Gwendolyn Harding to comprehend how an underfunded and crumbling government-controlled institution…could suddenly be transformed into a profitable subsidiary.”

But that was before Gwen met Jen…from an author with a name like “Olivia Goldsmith” you could expect puns and rhymes.

Jennifer was considered smart on Wall Street until she did one extremely stupid thing: she agreed to be the fall guy for a dishonest boss who promised she wouldn’t actually go to jail, or at least not for long. Now she’s in the Correctional Facility for Women with a lot of…oh dear…non-yuppie types. There’s a sweet, lovable old murderer (only once, and he truly deserved it), and a smart, sassy thief, and a pitiful little dumb blonde, and the smartest, toughest trustee a warden ever trusted. Then there’s Warden Gwen Harding, who can’t imagine how these convicts can be motivated to do anything profitable. Little does Gwen know that she’s the warden of the ultimate dream team of prison-based entrepreneurism…

Because this is a novel by Olivia Goldsmith, feminist humorist, and because even the mean girls in her fictional Correctional Facility are smarter and nicer than the average convict, it will work. Jen can make money out of anything, and pull strings to get unconditional pardons all round so her “Pen Pals” can hang out together when they’re released. “Do you believe that you were sent to this facility to do mission work?” a board member will ask when she comes up for parole. Before the story ends and Goldsmith uses the last few pages to discuss the prison system in our real world, there will be a couple of weddings, and the thief will steal one of her friends’ cheating boyfriend—just for long enough to steal all his money, while the wronged girlfriend falls in love with the man she picks for revenge sex and lives happily ever after. Jennifer may be, in some ways, a younger female version of Charles Colson, but this is not an evangelical Christian novel.


Goldsmith said that this story, suggested to her by an agent, was the hardest of her novels to write. It shows. Still, you never know when a “funny, inspirational” story about prison life may be passed around in an actual prison and inspire some convicts to…well, at least, share a laugh.  

Sadly, although Goldsmith was a baby-boomer, she's already passed beyond the realm of Fair Trade Books, and we still have to charge $5 per book + $5 per package. However, you can probably fit enough pocket-size paperbacks into one package to make that a good price. Payment may be sent to either address below. Yes, you can add books by living writers to the package; scroll down to see them.