Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Never Tell Our Business to Strangers: A Memoir by Jennifer Mascia

Book Description:
"When Jennifer Mascia is five years old, the FBI comes for her father. At that moment Jenny realizes that her family isn’t exactly normal. What follows are months of confusion marked by visits with her father through thick glass, talking to him over a telephone attached to the wall. She and her mother crisscross the country, from California to New York to Miami and back again. When her father finally returns home, months later, his absence is never explained—and Jenny is told that the family has a new last name. It’s only much later that Jenny discovers that theirs was a life spent on the lam, trying to outrun the law.

Thus begins the story of Jennifer Mascia’s bizarre but strangely magical childhood. An only child, she revels in her parents’ intense love for her—and rides the highs and lows of their equally passionate arguments. They are a tight-knit band, never allowing many outsiders in. And then there are the oddities that Jenny notices only as she gets older: the fact that her father had two names before he went away—in public he was Frank, but at home her mother called him Johnny; the neat, hidden hole in the carpet where her parents keep all their cash. The family sees wild swings in wealth—one year they’re shopping for Chanel and Louis Vuitton at posh shopping centers in Los Angeles, the next they’re living in one room and subsisting on food stamps.

What have her parents done? What was the reason for her father’s incarceration so many years ago? When Jenny, at twenty-two, uncovers her father’s criminal record during an Internet search, still more questions are raised. By then he is dying of cancer, so she presses her mother for answers, eliciting the first in a series of reluctant admissions about her father’s criminal past. Before her mother dies, four years later, Jenny is made privy to one final, riveting confession, which sets her on a search for the truth her mother fought to conceal for so many years. As Jenny unravels her family’s dark secrets, she must confront the grisly legacy she has inherited and the hard truth that her parents are not—and have never been—who they claimed to be."

This true tale of one woman's childhood on the run from her parents' criminal activities is deeply personal and poignant in parts, though ultimately the narrative voice kept me from sinking completely into the story. Jennifer Mascia, whose life was shaped by the activities of her parents and a past she didn't learn about until after her father's death, is certainly exorcising her fair share of demons here, and rightfully so.

I definitely felt for the lonely child so caught up in her parents dramas, though I thought the book itself could have been more tightly edited. It does get repetitive in places, and seemingly builds toward narrative peaks that then somehow are revealed as only plateaus. I also didn't appreciate Mascia's moments of self-loathing when she speaks of wearing size 14/16 pants; it was off-putting and didn't seem to fit into the narrative.

Though Mascia herself seems to have forgiven her parents for her unconventional upbringing, it is hard for the reader to do the same. Though her parents undoubtedly loved her, they certainly seemed to love themselves more, and gave little to no thought to the impact their actions would have on their young impressionable child. Well-written and even conversational in parts, this book certainly highlights the seamy side of life in the Mafia while demonstrating the painful effect parents can have on their children. Raw in parts, this memoir is nevertheless painfully honest- a solid offering from a novice writer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love this title, but I think I would find the book too upsetting. Irresponsible parenting is such a mess - sheesh, what is wrong with people?