Christina McDowell - After Perfect: A Daughter’s Memoir (11)

After getting bogged down in Murakami’s Wind Up Bird Chronicle, I wanted an audiobook diversion. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt, but the book really won me over. 

It’s a memoir by Christina McDowell (nee Prousalis). She was the spoiled rich daughter of an American businessman who went to jail for nasty business dealings. It’s rare that authors read their own books well, but she’s a skilled audiobook narrator.

It’s a challenging book to start, mostly because McDowell and the world she comes from aren’t that likeable. As a reader, you’re not sure how you’re supposed to feel - is it okay to dislike them? do other people dislike them? does the author know the things they are saying make her dislikable? When it all goes to hell, are you supposed to pity her? Or is it okay to not actually feel sorry for these people now forced to live basically the way every other person in North America has to live (getting jobs, paying bills, making their own food, etc.)

It’s interesting - rarely does a book so obviously reveal as much about you, the reader, as this one. I found myself not super sympathetic to her, largely because I don’t think having to live like I do is a pitiable state of affairs.

But as the book goes on, more layers are peeled back. 

Her parents never taught her how money works, how credit cards work, how bill payments happen. They’ve basically stunted her ability to function in the regular world. 

But, at the same time, she comes from a large enough network that she was able to find help and support often (not always). She found friends, roommates, and peers who kept her (mostly) off the streets. This speaks to being part of a network of privilege or advantage that many children of criminals don’t have access to. 

But then, she also makes some poor choices, helped enormously by the surprisingly seedy and icky side of life in Los Angeles. (It seems that young, desperate females in LA are only ever a conversation away from prostitution.)

It’s all complicated by the insight that white collar criminals can also be manipulative sociopaths. Unlike the "money-hungry, ambitious business people who push the envelope too far” trope that usually fills out the white collar crime narrative, McDowell’s father comes off like a plain old fashioned manipulative criminal. A guy who thinks that rules just don’t apply to him. A guy who would steal his own daughter’s identity to fund the lifestyle he and his wife believe they deserve.

So what you’re left with is less the story of a privileged girl whose father was a white collar criminal and more the story of a daughter whose father was a plain old fashioned criminal. 

Palette cleansed. Back to Murakami.