Sunday, November 11, 2012

Book Review: "Too Good to Be True" by Benjamin Anastas

"Most of us open our eyes at some point in our lives and find ourselves in a place we never would have chosen if we'd been paying attention along the way—a region of unlikeness all the more disorienting because we have found it on our own, without anyone else to blame, propelled ourselves right into the maw of it by the force of our own desires."

So says Benjamin Anastas relatively early on in his beautifully written and emotionally affecting memoir, Too Good to Be True. Anastas was an author whose first book, An Underachiever's Diary, received some serious acclaim in the late 1990s, and his follow-up novel helped him achieve renown, a goal of his for quite some time. Yet the pressure of following up these successes with a third novel seemed nearly impossible to handle, and his life began imploding around him.

This book is a first-person account about living with the constant anxiety of financial need, the near-crushing desire to regain your former sense of security and achievement, the powerful love of a father for his young son, and the need to love and be loved. Anastas pulls very few punches in accounting for the events in his life—he doesn't sugarcoat his actions or reactions, or his role when circumstances went bad.

As he recounts his childhood, raised by a hippie father who believed money was the root of all evil and a mother who struggled with mental illness when he was young, you can see how these events shaped the man he has become. You feel the strength of his desire to keep his marriage going even though he and his wife can barely stand one another, you sense his shame and fear about whether or not he'll ever be able to regain his financial footing (or avoid having to take his young son to a Coinstar machine to gather enough cash to pay for food), and you understand his hopefulness that he can give his son the love he needs to thrive.

Too Good to Be True is more than a memoir of self-discovery, it's more a tale of understanding how you get to a certain point in your life, how much of what has happened to you was truly within your control, and where you can go from this point. As someone who has struggled with anxiety about the direction of my own life, I heard Anastas' voice and identified with his feelings, his worries, and his thoughts.

"How much of our lives do we write, and how much of them are written for us?" Benjamin Anastas strives to answer that question, and reading this book, you'll relish how he finds his answers, but also realize that answers often lead to more questions. Although a little too self-deprecating at times, this is a book that packs a punch, one that makes you laugh, makes you think, and makes you feel.

No comments:

Post a Comment