41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
I have to honestly say that I hated this book for the first fourth of it. I thought that Anastas was whiny and frankly the kind of guy I would warn my daughter against. His career as a novelist was in free fatal, and he was broke. In a nice piece of writing, he discusses his humiliating world of taking coins to Coinstar to buy groceries. He was with one woman who would like him to stabilize his life, and to whom he is lying about his debts. His firstnwife had left him while pregant with his son. He had cheated on her just before the wedding, but they had thought they had gotten past this betrayal. At this point, the book is filled with rage, self hate, and envy of those who are succeeding. I tend to finish my books, and it grew on me. I can see the pain he endured as a child, the casualty of the great 60's experiment, and a dreadful psychiatric hospital. We hear more about his efforts to salvage his marriage.
In the second part of the book, he widens his focus to include his understanding of the pain he really has caused. We see a more balanced man. I began to like him better. One can only love a man who is in love with his son. The focus began to shift from the wrongs done to him, to the ways he could pull his life to a place where he could be productive agai, maximize his life with his son, and attempt to save his relationship with honesty. The writing is indeed clear and evocative.
Read it and see what you think.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2012
Haven't read a book this compelling in a long time and I read a lot. Writers especially will devour it but I think anyone would love it. I bought this on my kindle after I read the favorable review in The New York Times. I just had a baby a week ago and went back and forth between staring at my son's face and reading this book - was just too compelled to put the book down. The writing is beautiful and just excellent, the story of the author's failed marriage and career drives forward with incredible energy and intelligence, and there is so much heart and soul, especially around his son and his childhood. Really made me want to read more from this author. I am going to buy his first novel and I am also going to buy TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE in hardcover because it's the kind of book I know I will want to reread. Just loved it and can't recommend it highly enough.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2012
This is a great book. I can't remember having read anything so quickly, in fact, and with such passion. Perhaps that's because it's a book about failure--which is something that I have lived often enough and yet continue to dread. In part, it's the story of how and why Anastas was driven to cheat on his wife, and how his doing so--coupled with a number of factors largely out of his control--ruined his life. But on a deeper level it's a story about his own struggles to be a son to his hippie parents and a father to his young son. I found it to be very well-written throughout, with language that is elegant, thoughtful, and deeply moving, even as it depicts scenes that will make you cringe, sob, and fume. It's an honest book, and, in a sense, a book about learning to be honest: By the end, Anastas learns that he does not have to be "too good to be true"--that it was by trying to be better than he was that he was driven to fail to begin with. This could seem a very cheesy lesson, were it not for the longing behind Anastas' lifelong struggle to learn it. If you've experienced longing, you will love this book. I recommend it without reservations.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2012
I didn't realize this book was a memoir until, with a jarring sense of recognition, Anastas mimicked the debt collectors phone calls asking for "Benjamin Anastas" in robotic automation, and recognized the authors name. I had no idea that there were others like myself out there, but now suspect many who hear this story will say "me too." This book was funny, sweet, and deeply resonant in ways that I could not have explained until Anastas gave them words. It ended so beautifully too, humility and appreciation for the space in life we find ourselves is what true contentedness is.
I think I'll start an "Anastas Fan Club."
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2012
Anastas is a talented writer, and this book contains many passages that I thought were powerful and almost moving, although these are almost invariably about his son rather than himself or any of the adults around him. But what I found disappointing about the book was his tendency to devolve into whining and score-settling. I was hoping for a story of a once successful author who, finding himself entering early middle age broke and flailing and adrift, manages to pull himself up through pluck, good humor, and aplomb. What's on display rather is someone who makes suspect financial and personal choices but fails to give others in his life sufficient credit for having legitimate motivations and purposes of their own. It seems that he believes that a little frank acknowledgment of his own sins allows him to assume the mantle of sanity and rationality in this story, while others' reactions and behavior becomes inexplicable or even unforgivable as a result. Although I'm sure it must have been pleasurable and cathartic to write about his former wife and her lover in unflattering terms - and give the readers clues so that they can be easily identified - he comes off in my mind as a somewhat diminished figure, although perhaps he may not have cared. In any event, it would have been a better book if he'd had been more fearless in examining himself, even though I grant it must have been hard to get his writing career re-started with this rather unpleasant self-portrait.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2012
"Too Good To Be True", a new memoir by Benjamin Anastas, has a continual feeling of Wobegon without the lake. Depressing as his life sometimes seems, I found the book to be largely compelling without feelings of either rancor or empathy toward the author. He is down (on his luck) and out (of money) but not out of a reasonable future.
The book tends to be uneven. It's a rather slow, dull beginning with the best chapters being the last two. They tie things together in a strong, almost tender way. It is here that author Anastas really shines and why "Too Good To Be True" is certainly worth the read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2012
I didn't think this was my kind of book and, frankly, borrowed it only because it was free on Amazon Prime. I started it to take a 'break' and couldn't put it down. It's well written, honest, and wrenching. It is a very good writer who can strike a balance between pain and lyricism without over-writing either. I must say, however, I wasn't crazy about the end for two reasons: 1: the letter to his ex-wife's lover: really? while the rest of the book was appropriately self-revealing, the letter was petty, childish and unnecessary. 2: the letter to his son:not because of the sentiments expressed, but it seemed an abrupt shift and perhaps extra-jarring next to the letter to the "nominee". That aside (and the crummy proofreading of the Kindle editor), it was very very much a worthwhile book to read.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2013
Benjamin Anastas's newly released memoir, "Too Good to be True," is a real-life horror story fitting for the season. There's no blood or limb loss, nothing so obvious as a gash or ghostly apparition. Loss is nonetheless a running theme as the 42-year-old ticks off, chapter by grim chapter, the loss of his promising writing career, the loss of his marriage, the loss of his full-time fathering rights, the loss of financial stability. Shaky ground is where he's staked his tent.
Content -- that is, Anastas's unhappy story -- is the main feature of this book. It's ably written and wraps up nicely when he is able to draw from his past to make sense of what's happening to him. A mother and a garden, nearly biblical in import, figure in here. But it's the story, not insight and not universal truths emerging through anecdote, that is the main feature. "Too Good to be True" is the car accident you have to slow down for. And you find yourself shaking your head as you pull away. What a mess. Wreckage strewn everywhere. I hope somebody survived.
Benjamin Anastas experienced some truly heady moments when he began publishing a decade ago. "An Underachiever's Diary," in particular, caught the attention of the publishing world. His book launch party in a Chelsea gallery attracted a slew of editors and literary agents. "The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor's Disappearance" followed. Subsequent books were started and abandoned. Sales did not live up to expectations. Somewhere in there Anastas must have quit his day job because bills mounted and the ability to pay his way vanished. "I wrote a book. The world yawned. That's just how it is."
Anastas packs a lot in 177 pages. We learn of his marriage to a writer who walks out on him before the marriage is a year old. She's still pregnant with his son when she leaves him for another author. He portrays her as somewhat detached throughout, obsessed with yoga but fed up with him. While he and his wife were still engaged, Anastas has a brief affair with a woman he meets at a book fair in Germany. She lives half a world away and they will never meet again; nonetheless, he is hell bent on confessing. One would have to surmise that deferment of gratifications, be it hastening to the ivory tower life of an established author or exercising one's sexual urges, is a lesson yet to be learned.
Anastas does get involved with another woman he likes. He moves in with Eliza though he has no way to hold up his end of the financial bargain. All the while, she makes it clear that she expects him to contribute financially. This cohabitation creates ongoing frustration.
He writes: "I forget that she [Eliza] is not as settled in our life together and as comfortable with its uncertainties as I am. For me, being able to lift an arm on Mercer Street to hail a cab and slide into the seat beside her for a ride that will bounce us over the cobblestones and along the shuttered boulevard of Canal Street at night is enough to live on."
Is this sentiment more passion in the moment than truth? In real life, he saves and hides unopened stacks of bills, ducks the countless calls from bill collectors, hoards change in order to feed his son when his son comes to visit and borrows money from Eliza to pay his half of the rent. These are more than uncertainties.
There is some scent of derision when he labels his father -- who once had a real thing for mooning people -- a Marxist revolution of one. But it's a banner that Benjamin seems to carry himself, just not as consciously. And the chapter titled Not This Guy is a mistake. He addresses a letter to his wife's lover, the man who now spends more time with his son than Anastas does. Anastas accuses him of "groping my wife" yet he gropes eagerly in a German hotel room. Books that betray a longing for revenge work best when they're hilarious, like Nora Ephron's "Heartburn."
Anastas writes that he's in a story he didn't make. That's pause for thought, certainly. In his defense, those born to a writing life and who stay true to it make tremendous sacrifices in the way of livelihood and personal safeguards. Anastas, who has no health insurance, has amassed big medical bills. He did accept a temp job as a fact checker, a job that is indeed a lower-rung job in the publishing world. For Anastas, finding a balance between writing and living is taking its time in coming.
Those in New York and Boston's North Shore will have opportunities to attend his readings and book discussions. Readers can decide for themselves the merits of memoir in general, its attributes and vulnerabilities, and Benjamin's offering to the genre. Anastas, who lives in New York City and who spends time in Gloucester where his father, author Peter Anastas, lives, gives us a slice of life that begs reaction.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2012
This book is compelling and well written, but I sometimes found myself doubting the author's honesty. Benjamin Anastas portrays his wife as a total psychopath with no redeeming qualities aside from physical beauty. Her decision to abandon him hardly seems related to his premarital betrayal, and nothing in the book shows that their relationship was ever anything but superficial. Unless the mother of this man's son really is insane, I think the book would be better if it presented a fuller description of her, and maybe a clue about her side of the story. For me it was also hard to muster too much sympathy for someone with this guy's Wikipedia entry, especially since he has so far managed to maintain a good standard of living despite suffering the abject humiliation of borrowing from significant others and scrounging for loose change to contribute to the grocery budget and Coinstar's profits. Maybe I'm sentimental, but he moved me most with his last chapter--a letter to his young son who can't yet read.
As someone else pointed out, the Kindle edition is kind of a mess. Someone seems to have screwed up the e-book with a global search-and-replace that removed the second f in all instances of "off". Instead of immediately undoing this operation, the editor apparently then attempted an automated fix that only botched things further.
Mr. Anastas, your Coinstar days may be over, because I think I will be buying your novels. I wish you a speedy return to a charmed life, albeit not the one you expected.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2013
Mr. Anastas is a fine writer but his story is pathetic. He plays the role of victim though it's apparent he's the catalyst for his problems and has chosen now to make a buck by whining about it. In the end, however, I do wish him luck.