You’re three years old. Your mom has taken you, your twin sister, and your seven-year-old brother to a strange place to live. You all miss your father and sometimes feel scared.
Mom regularly attends some kind of group because there’s something wrong with her—you don’t know what.
In Too Good to Be True Anastas writes about the adult struggles that compelled him to look back at some things that have shaped him, and he describes one particularly haunting memory (excerpted on The Huffington Post):
One day, while our mother is in group, they bring us to the room where they watch us playing and sit us down. I have no memory of what they say to us. But for each of us they have a sign: my brother’s sign says MR. KNOW-IT-ALL, my sister’s sign says CRYBABY, and mine says TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE…
He wears this sign for one whole day. For a lifetime he’ll be affected by it.
The book as described further by Kirkus Reviews:
The author affords readers a glimpse into an unconventional childhood watched over by a loose-cannon father and a depressive, therapy-dependent mother, who came out as lesbian when the author was a teenager. However, the headliner here is his more recent conundrum, which he conveys with an exacting eye for detail and a healthy dose of browbeaten exasperation. Eventually circumstances improved, and the author’s many battles have wrung from him both catharsis and poignancy.
Publishers Weekly says more about the current events that trigger his past:
The author initially appears self-pitying, mystified by his inability to earn money as a well-educated published author, reduced to scrounging for coins in order to entertain his son, and somewhat comfortably accustomed to his role of getting kicked around by creditors, ex-wife, therapists, even the new boyfriend of his ex, called the Nominee (for a Major Literary Award, no less). At times the author can come across as insincere, but he does redeem himself with a closing poignant letter of promise addressed to his son (‘you’).
In an interview regarding Too Good to Be True, Anastas is asked about his attitude toward therapy. His response indicates not only a clear reluctance to consider using it but also an interesting prejudice against our choices in office decor:
Q. You’re very open in the book about a ‘mistrust of mental health professionals,’ partly because of a bad experience you had with family therapy as a small child. Have you ever learned anything in therapy that’s been helpful?A. The only thing I’ve learned in the periods when I’ve been in therapy is that being in therapy makes me miserable. I’m not cut out for it. It might seem like a strange thing to say for someone who’s just written a memoir, but it’s other people who I find really fascinating, not myself. The idea of going to an office somewhere to sit on discount furniture and talk about myself for 50 minutes is my idea of hell. I’m bad at it.
MORE BOOK REVIEWS
Charles Yu, author: “‘Enjoyed’ is the wrong word for this book. You don’t enjoy eating a bag of glass shards mixed in with bloody pulpy bits of a human heart. Enjoyment, in this case, is irrelevant —I devoured this book not in spite of the pain, but because of it. This is a messy, vital, non-story of a story. I finished it and felt covered in the debris of a life.”
Gary Shteyngart, author: “A spectacular account of mind-blowing failure. It is short and it is beautiful and you must buy it.”
Rivka Galchen, author: “I love this book so much. Which is weird, considering that it consists of watching Anastas take blow after blow, before being battered and receiving more blows. But you won’t pity the author, who leans into even the most difficult situations with wonder and boundless empathy; instead you’ll just wish he could narrate your own disasters to you, so you could see the art in the salvage.”