TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. By Benjamin Anastas. New Harvest. 192 pages. $25.
“I need to be rescued,” writes Benjamin Anastas in his memoir, “Too Good to Be True.” We first meet him at the church door, hands pressed, head bowed, praying. When there’s no reply, Anastas feels he’s reached the outer limit of loss, having “failed all the way up to the heavens.”
With a flat-lined career, a blown-up marriage and a stack of bills, Anastas sets out to reconstruct himself on paper. There’s an emotional recklessness in Anastas’s need to confess and relive the steps that led him to the church door. It can be a painful but also a very funny tour, in Anastas’ telling.
Only a little more than 10 years ago, Anastas was at the top of his game, with a well-received first novel (“An Underachiever’s Diary”) and a bidding war for his second (“The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor’s Disappearance”). His upward trajectory was stalled by bad luck (“I wrote a book and the world yawned”) but also by error — notably, his shaky marriage didn’t survive mutual infidelity. Soon, no one wants him.
The son of a father who thought money was for “Republicans and Pigs” and a mother who dropped out of college to marry him, Anastas spent his childhood in unconventional settings. When he was 3, his mother’s therapist hung a sign around his neck: “Too Good to Be True.” Now, the memory of that sign taunts him.
Anastas writes protectively of his parents. He has a son himself and wishes to retrieve and understand slivers of the past. Stories and the truth they tell, it turns out, are his legacy, not false pride — or shame — of “station.” Anastas’ regrets are ornate, comically so, his solution simple and sweet.
Reviewer Catherine Holmes teaches English at the College of Charleston.