GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 18, 2012

'Too Good to Be True'

Memoir looks at hitting bottom and climbing out

By Gail McCarthy Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Benjamin Anastas, a published writer living in New York City, found himself at the bottom of the economic barrel. In addition to being broke, he became a part-time parent in the wake of a failed marriage. It was not unusual for him to scrounge his apartment looking for change to buy yogurt and carrots.

But Anastas, born in Gloucester, found a way to begin to climb out of his spiraling decline and shares his path in his latest memoir, “Too Good to Be True.” A reading takes place here next Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Harbor Room in Gloucester.

“I just found myself at one of those crossroads when nothing was working. I thought about how do I pick my life up again and how did I get there in the first place,” he said in a telephone interview this week.

The book, which contains some Gloucester scenes, is set from the fall of 2010 until the spring of 2011 but it moves back in time to his earliest memory, which literally became its title.

“The failure is real, the voice is raw, the story is haunting,” wrote author Jonathan Franzen about the book.

Anastas, now 43, has already established a literary career. His first book, “An Underachiever’s Diary,” achieved attention as did the second, “The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor’s Disappearance,” which was named a New York Times Notable Book. But in the wake of this success, his life plummeted for myriad reasons.

“I wasn’t paying attention to my career as a writer, and part of what sent me down the spiral is that I spent four years working on a novel that was only published in Europe,” he said. That book, “At the Feet of the Divine,” was published in German.

“Failure is the great counter-story of America,” said Anastas. “There are many success stories but there are more stories of failure.”

His earliest memory, which led to the title, stemmed from when his parents were divorcing; his mother was suffering from severe depression and undergoing psychiatric treatment. Both she and the three children were undergoing family therapy in residential treatment in Danvers.

“My parents were divorcing at the time and we were suffering as a family and the people who were supposed to help us were adding insult to injury,” recalled Anastas. The incident that provoked the title stems from a day when the three children each had to wear a sign around their neck, and the one placed on Ben read “too good to be true.” His sister’s sign read “crybaby” and his brother was “Mr. Know It All.”

Even though the book is just released, Anastas has received some instant feedback from readers via Facebook and Twitter. One reader said he stayed up to 5 a.m. to finish it.

“The fear of going broke is a big deal for everyone and I tried to write about what it’s like to be a parent without money and raising a child,” he said. “I wrote about what some people don’t want to think about.”

Anastas, though still working to get out of debt, has two teaching jobs, one in a graduate program at Columbia University and as a visiting faculty member at Bennington College.

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Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3445, or at gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.

If you go Who and what: Author Benjamin Anastas will hold a reading from his new memoir "Too Good to be True." When: Thursday, Oct. 25, at 7:30 p.m. Where: The Harbor Room, 8 Norwood Court in Gloucester. How much: $10 suggested donation; students free; no one will be turned away for lack of funds. The event is co-sponsored by the Gloucester Writers Center and The Book Store of Gloucester.