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Never Tell Our Business to Strangers: A Memoir Hardcover – February 23, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Villard (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345505352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345505354
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,468,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Exclusive: Jennifer Mascia on Never Tell Our Business to Strangers

Connie Corleone I’m not.

That’s what I have to remind people whenever I tell them that my father worked for the Mafia and their eyes light up. Because, while my father may have been a freelancer of sorts for the Gambino clan, he was more of a brokester than a mobster.

What is a brokester, you ask? According to William K. Rashbaum of the New York Times, "The impoverished gangster barely eking out a living is so commonplace that mobsters have a word for these poorer men of honor: brokesters." Sorry to puncture the romance, but my Dad was one of dem guys, with his "one-two-tree" Brooklyn accent and his bicep tattoos.

Of course, I grew up thinking John Mascia was a mere carpet cleaner. But those rough, calloused hands had been put to other, more sinister uses, something I didn’t discover until I was in my twenties. For me, his criminal past first emerged when the FBI came for him, when I was five. I didn’t know we’d been fugitives for five years, living under the surname of an old prison buddy of my father’s. Nor did I know that we’d been living on the lam in southern California suburbia because my father had been in prison for a dozen years before I was born and violated his parole by selling cocaine. Nor did I know then that the reason he had been in jail so long was because he had committed murder, shooting a criminal informant who’d been ratting on his gang.

No, I got John Mascia for the last third of his life, when he tried at his hand at legitimacy, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes, when money was tight, he would sell cocaine, sending kilos and cash to Miami and back via FedEx. We never saved money--my parents’ idea of a bank was a hole cut in the padding below the carpet. We went bankrupt several times, spending up our credit cards with abandon. My father’s business was off the books; my parents knew so little about taxes that when it came time for me to do my own, they both looked at me blankly and suggested an accountant who lived in our building. We never owned a house, never set down financial roots anywhere--money came into my parents’ lives in big, unaccounted-for bundles and flowed between their cigarette-stained fingers like fine Long Island sand.

And I always wondered why. My mother was book-smart and my father was street-smart--hell, he was pocketing $80,000 tax-free in the go-go Eighties, plus whatever he made from the occasional cocaine sale. Where had they gone wrong?

Later, when I started working for the Times and did some digging into my father’s criminal past, I came across a private investigator who told me about men like my father.

"Associates never hold onto their money," he said. "They think, ‘I can just go out and do this again tomorrow. I don’t have to worry about saving money--my life is a stream of money.’ Most of the guys just burn through it. Also, it’s the lifestyle. There are great moments of exultation--it’s nice when you walk into a restaurant and everybody bows to you. But you get the same effect by handing out fifties, let me tell you."

I felt hollow. Surely my father was more than a flashy social climber. He’d been a caring, patient father to me.

But maybe his brokester status was a gift. I own one credit card, my paychecks are faithfully deposited into a checking account, and I always pay my taxes. Eventually. --Jennifer Mascia


"With her intrepid reporting and unique voice, Jennifer Mascia breathes life into characters living on the fringe, people that most others ignore or try to forget: the druggies, the dealers, the scammers, the murderers and desperate ex-cons.  The fact that they were part of her own loving family makes her story all the more remarkable and impossible to put down."— Helene Stapinski, author, Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family

“With a keen journalist’s eye and a loving daughter’s heart, Jennifer Mascia has written an incredible true story of family secrets, lies, and, ultimately, forgiveness.”—Janice Erlbaum, author of Have You Found Her: A Memoir

More About the Author

Born in Miami and raised in Southern California to Brooklyn-born parents, Jennifer Mascia spent her childhood believing she was going to be the next Meryl Streep. At 17, she moved to New York with her father, a carpet cleaner, and her mother, a retired teacher, and majored in theater at Hunter College. Upon graduating, however, she embarked on an illustrious career as a server in several overpriced Manhattan eateries before embracing her inner news junkie and applying to Journalism school. She graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 2007 and has spent the last three and a half years as an editorial assistant on the Metropolitan News desk of the New York Times.

In 2007, she confronted the family skeletons and penned a Modern Love column about her father's criminal past and her mother's lifelong attempt to keep it a secret. The column, entitled "Never Tell Our Business to Strangers," was expanded to book-length and will be published by Villard, a division of Random House, in February 2010.

She lives in Manhattan.

Customer Reviews

I found it to be slow and very hard to finish.
Patricia Walker
The author seemed to be stretching situations in order to make a book.
Samantha L. Sayre
There's something to be said for Too Much Information.
N. B. Kennedy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jenna of the Jungle TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've just finished this book and my head is still spinning a bit. It's difficult to sum it up in a neat review, because the writing and the story itself are uneven. There are many moments of gritty honesty and revelations about how love can survive beyond all reason, but there are also pages of repetitiveness and navel-gazing.

In short, Jennifer grows up in a volatile household-- it's filled with cursing and screaming and walking out and her dad getting arrested and several episodes of adults smacking and kicking her... and yet there's also love. I would think that most kids growing up in this kind of family would wind up bitter and hateful toward her parents, but she manages the opposite. She's attached to them in ways that go beyond "normal." As she herself realizes toward the end of the book, it felt cult-like. Her parents' crimes, being on the lam, and all the covering up, created this insultated threesome who depended on each other and emotionally unloaded on each other all the time.

For the first half, I admired Jennifer for managing to love her parents so deeply despite their screw-ups, crimes, and even their abandonment (like leaving her with a drug-addicted aunt). By the end, though, I was too bothered by their crimes and no longer understood Jennifer's fierce loyalty and love for them. It was hard to swallow that she judged her mother for staying married to a murderer, while at the same time talking about how much she loves her dad still and wants to hug him when she thinks about him sitting in prison writing letters to find loopholes to get out, or his affair with his wife's sister, or whatever. In other words, if she thinks her mother should have walked away from a murderer, why shouldn't she hold herself to the same standard?
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By beckyjean VINE VOICE on February 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jennifer Mascia's memoir of a life spent on the lam with her larcenous parents (one of whom was a mob shooter and a cocaine addict) is surprisingly relatable, even for those of us who haven't had criminals for parents. The writing is not slick or seamless, but conversational in a way that makes the first three-quarters of the book highly engaging.

For me, the book broke down after the death of Mascia's charismatic, mysterious father. The recounting of her mother's illness, decline, and death and of Mascia's research into her father's criminal history seemed less well-written than what had come before, and seemed repetitive and merely personal -- it was less transcendent than the earlier parts of the book that detailed the family's vivid ups and downs.

Even so, the book is worth a read, especially if you're Italian, New York Italian, or interested in mob stuff or psychology.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By FlashKnickers on February 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was really looking forward to reading this book, having had a similar childhood myself. While I enjoyed reading it, I must also confess that at times I found it slightly unbelievable that the author seems to remember thoughts, experiences, minute details and entire conversations--many of which are rather mature in nature--from an extremely young age. This took away from the credibility of the story for me, but only a little, as there's every possibility that her memories were augmented by later conversations and experiences.

Having said all that, it's obvious that Ms. Mascia did in fact live this haywire life, as there are certain experiences she describes that only someone who lived it would know about. It's a confusing life for a child, and I recognized so many of the situations and questions (and answers that never quite made sense, but you accepted them anyway... how many years can daddy be "away at college"?) she describes. And it carries into your life as an adult; the jury duty anecdote made me howl with laughter because it mirrored one of my jury duty experiences exactly. Actually I often felt like I was reading parts of my own life story. But while so much of it was funny to me because it was so familiar, it will be enlightening--and often amusing--to readers who are unfamiliar with these situations in real life.

This is an entertaining, absorbing and touching read, and you will be fascinated whether you've lived "the life" or not. But if you have, be prepared for a trip down memory lane that you may or may not welcome, depending on your outlook. I gave it an extra star because I know for a fact just how hard it is to adequately describe growing up this way.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Book Lover on March 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
While this book is interesting, it is not at all what I thought it would be. In fact, I felt like I had been a bit duped by the jacket summary and the cover. I thought that the book was going to have more to do with the author living with a parent/or parents who were criminals. In fact, the author's father did have a criminal past, but it predated the author's birth (although the author does witness her father being arrested - - I will not mention why - - spoiler). The book is largely about the author's strained relationship with her parents and the co-dependent lives that they lead. While the author does give a very detailed description of her experiences living through her parents illnesses, which might be interesting to some people, it is not what I believed the book was going to be about, and I was therefore disappointed. I was not looking for a book about living through toxic child/parent relationships, but if I had been this would have been a much more satisfying read.
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