When he was three, in the early 1970s, Benjamin Anastas found himself in his mother’s fringe-therapy group in Massachusetts, a sign around his neck: Too Good to Be True. The phrase haunted him through his life, even as he found the literary acclaim he sought after his 1999 novel, An Underachiever’s Diary, had made the smart set take notice. Too Good to Be True is his deeply moving memoir of fathers and sons, crushing debt and infidelity—and the first, cautious steps taken toward piecing a life back together.
“It took a long time for me to admit I had failed,” Anastas begins. Broke, his promising literary career evaporated, he’s hounded by debt collectors as he tries to repair a life ripped apart by the spectacular implosion of his marriage, which ended when his pregnant wife left him for another man. Had it all been too good to be true? Anastas’s fierce love for his young son forces him to confront his own childhood, fraught with mental illness and divorce. His father’s disdain for money might have been in line with the ’70s zeitgeist—but what does it mean when you’re dumping change into a Coinstar machine, trying to scrounge enough to buy your son a meal? Charged with rage and despair, humor and hope, this unforgettable book is about losing one’s way and finding it again, and the redemptive power of art.
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"I don't read too many memoirs these days as they too often are either redundant or overly sentimental or too much navel-gazing, but this memoir got intriguing reviews and the reading lived up to the hype. Not too anything, Anastas takes us on a journey of his adult life as a reflection of his childhood, and rather than a telling of his experience we travel with him as he discovers who and why he is the man he is and the man he wishes to be. Smart, clever, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, often touching but never sappy, I read the book in almost one sitting [largely because of a long wait at an airport] and delighted in staying in his story. It's also an especially telling view of the hardships of the writer's life, which some of us know too well, even those, like the author, who has published to good reviews, and who has an agent, and a publisher and writing "cred" and nonetheless ends up broke, in debit, in despair, and in the grip of writer's block until he tells his own story. The best way to reveal this lovely memoir is to let the author/subject speak: "How much of our lives do we write, and how much of them are written for us? I've been thinking about this problem lately, looking back over the trail that brought me to this place, and reading my progress at every step along the way - as adrift as I have been from the usual compass points, as unaware of my direction - for signs of an author, for the fingerprints left behind by some great invisible hand. My life is not a story. It has never been a story, not for me, not even while I've been taking great pains with this testament to tell it truthfully on the page. I am in too deep to call it a story... I can say this: there is something in me that has wasted too much time in longing, an instinct that has whispered in my ear, tugged me by the sleeves, kept me circling back into the pages of a story that I didn't write myself." If you have an interest in the impact of eccentric families and family trauma, if you have an interest in how people develop, or not, into maturity, or if you simply enjoy a story well told, you will like this memoir. A page turner of good writing."
Randy (4 out of 5 stars)