Review of the novel, “Margo’s Got Money Troubles,” by Rufi Thorpe

When readers meet Margo Millet, the protagonist of Rufi Thorpe’s novel “Margo’s Got Money Troubles,” she is 20 years old and about to give birth to a baby boy. The father is her junior college English professor, a man who throws his power around as freely as his ratty copy of “Beowulf.” Everyone in Margo’s orbit has begged her not to have the baby. She doesn’t listen, following her heart instead, a decision full of stubbornness and naiveté. Margo drops out of college and is sure she can raise her son, Bodhi, alone while living with a gaggle of roommates in Fullerton, Calif.

That quickly proves impossible, and the scream of her despair is as loud as her baby’s cries. With two of her roommates (and their rent money) gone, Margo collapses on her bed, no extra hands to hold her son as she recovers from labor. Around her, there is “the echoey space of no one caring about her or worrying about her or helping her.”

Thorpe, a former PEN/Faulkner Award finalist, has showed the fluidity in her writing and her originality in three previous novels, but with “Margo” she has written a book that is perfectly right for right now. Written in alternating first and third person, the plot deftly combines the struggles of single motherhood with, improbably, pro wrestling and the online porn site OnlyFans. This is a case where more really is more. What could have been a disaster in someone else’s hands is an absolute delight in Thorpe’s.

Margo makes ends meet as a waitress, but she can’t afford the child care she needs to keep her job. The baby’s father liked fetishizing Margo’s blue-collar life but wants no part of the reality: His family makes her sign a nondisclosure agreement for a pittance. Margo’s mother, Shyanne, a former Hooters waitress who is now a sales associate at Bloomingdale’s, won’t take time off to help. And Margo’s father, Jinx, a WWE Hall of Fame wrestler turned manager who was never around, is again MIA.

Until he isn’t. A few weeks after Bodhi’s birth, there is Jinx at Margo’s door. In leather pants, with a heavy history of heroin and opioid addiction, he is not the babysitter Margo is expecting, but he’s fully at ease taking care of Bodhi, even if, without steroids pumping through his body, “he’d begun to resemble a hairless cat.”

Fresh out of rehab and needing a place to live, Jinx moves in and is unexpectedly full of fresh ideas. While watching wrestling with Margo, he mentions a female wrestler who has made it on OnlyFans. When he drops that “she made more in a month on there than in a whole year wrestling,” Margo logs right on. That’s where the hilarity — and thoughtful commentary about the sex industry, the struggles of motherhood, love and found family — really begins.

Margo makes an account and starts studying successful OnlyFans stars with business in mind. She’s bright, she’s adventurous, and she sees no shame in the work.

“This is what I have … this is how I can do it, and if it keeps us safe with a place to live and diapers and clothes for Bodhi, then I don’t care,” she declares. “Where was the shame coming from?” she wonders. The answer: not from the women she’s around, not from her, but from just about everyone else.

While her father is judgmental at first, he soon gets involved in the way he knows best, flexing his marketing chops, knowing that the acting sizzle in wrestling transfers right into porn. His advice: Margo needs a crew. Margo listens and joins forces with two OnlyFans stars. Together, they create social media for the highly visual world, with TikTok and Instagram mixing in with the nudity.

In this way, Margo has turned online sex into a type of performance art, where she is writing scripts, directing and world building. Thorpe describes Margo’s work as feminist, not just in that it allows for a flexible mothering/earning/learning experience, but also because Margo enjoys what she does.

“Margo’s Got Money Troubles” is fiery while at the same time darkly funny and soft in the layers of love that start to build the second a child is born. (The book is already set to become an Apple TV series starring Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman.) It’s also about looking back at your past self with empathy.

“She felt incredibly stupid. For believing him, for having the affair with him, for having a uterus,” third-person Margo tells readers about her relationship with her professor. And first-person Margo is there to wash it away. “I like getting to be the me now watching the past me. It’s almost a way of loving myself. Stroking the cheek of that girl with my understanding.”

With Margo, Thorpe has given us a heroine to cheer for as she zigs and zags through a clothing-optional world, creating a brand-new life driven by age-old intelligence and motherly love.

Karin Tanabe is the author of six novels, including “A Woman of Intelligence,” “The Gilded Years” and, most recently, “Sunset Crowd.”

Margo’s Got Money Troubles

William Morrow. 302 pp. $28

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Review of the novel, “Margo’s Got Money Troubles,” by Rufi Thorpe:

When readers meet Margo Millet, the protagonist of Rufi Thorpe’s novel “Margo’s Got Money Troubles,”…