Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: After Perfect (Audio)

Summary: In the tradition of New York Times best sellers What Remains by Carole Radziwill and Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey, Christina McDowell's unflinching memoir is a brutally honest, cautionary tale about one family's destruction in the wake of the Wall Street implosion. 

Christina McDowell was born Christina Prousalis. She had to change her name to be legally extricated from the trail of chaos her father, Tom Prousalis, left in the wake of his arrest and subsequent imprisonment as one of the guilty players sucked into the collateral fallout of Jordan Belfort (the "Wolf of Wall Street"). Christina worshipped her father and the seemingly perfect life they lived...a life she finds out was built on lies. Christina's family, as is typically the case, had no idea what was going on. 

Nineteen-year-old Christina drove her father to jail while her mother dissolved in denial. Since then Christina's life has been decimated. As her family floundered in rehab, depression, homelessness, and loss, Christina succumbed to the grip of alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity before finding catharsis in the most unlikely of places. From the bucolic affluence of suburban Washington, DC, to the A-list clubs and seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, this provocative memoir unflinchingly describes the harsh realities of a fall from grace. Full of '90s nostalgia and access to the inner circles of the Washingtonian societal elite, Christina McDowell's beautiful memoir is a Blue Jasmine story from a daughter's perspective. -- Audible

One of the books I discovered at this year's BEA was AFTER PERFECT: A DAUGHTER'S MEMOIR by Christina McDowell. I don't read a lot of memoirs, but this one sounded like it might be interesting. When the folks at Audible asked if I was interested in giving it a listen, I didn't even hesitate.

AFTER PERFECT is Christina McDowell's story of what happened to her and her family after her father's arrest. The Prousalis family seemingly had it all. They were living an extravagant life in the DC suburbs. Christina thought her family was just about perfect. Her father, Tom, who she idolized, was a successful attorney; and her mother served on various charities. Christina and their sisters were all popular girls who had everything money could buy...

until Tom was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement with Jordan Belfort (the "Wolf of Wall Street.") As Christina discovered more and more about her father, she realized that their entire life was built on lies. Christina, her sisters, and her mom had no idea what was going on, but it didn't take long for them to find themselves without the life-style they were accustomed to.

Christina took her father's incarceration particularly hard. She moved to Los Angeles to try her hand at an acting career. Her life fell apart as she began drinking too much, taking drugs and falling into bed with men. Fortunately she was able to get the help she needed, come to terms with her father's deceptions, and put her life back together.

AFTER PERFECT is definitely an interesting story about a family's tragic fall. I was extremely impressed with the author's honesty, sometimes brutal, about her father and her own life. The story was very sad and I found myself hoping that Ms. McDowell came to her senses before doing some permanent damage. There were times that it was almost difficult to listen to her path towards self-destruction. And many of the scenes with her father just made me sick. He really did shatter Ms. McDowell's world and it wasn't just because of their financial ruin.

However, if I'm going entirely honest, there were also times when I had a hard time feeling pity for Ms. McDowell and her family. That's not a knock against Ms. McDowell or her story. It's just that they had so much and took so much of it for granted. As I reflect back on Ms. McDowell's privileged childhood, I realize that this life is all she and her sisters ever knew. There would be almost no way possible that they could just up and change their lifestyles after their father's fall.

And I think that's actually the beauty of this book. Ms. McDowell is so darn honest about herself and her family's circumstances that it's almost hard to be resentful towards them. (I say the term family without including her father!) Her story is one about redemption and it's hard not to respect her by the end of her story. Despite the challenges she faced, she eventually found the inner strength to make the changes she needed to and get herself out of the mountain of debt she was facing.

I listened to the audio version of this book which was read by the author. Normally I would be hesitant to listen to a book narrated by the author, but Ms. McDowell has worked as an actress so she's not the typical author reading her story. I thought she did a great job. Her voice definitely lent an air of authenticity to the story and you could actually hear her pain.

I enjoyed AFTER PERFECT and recommend it to fans of memoirs.

Thanks to Audible for providing a review copy of this audiobook.


bermudaonion said...

I read The Wolf of Wall Street and was disgusted by Belfort's story so would like to see how it affected some of the families involved. This sounds right up my alley.

Beth F said...

My mom would love this one. And I agree it'd be hard to suddenly switch lifestyles.