Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done

Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done

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by Sandra Newman
     
 

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When Chrysalis Moffat and her brother, Eddie, inherit a mansion on the coast of California, Eddie hatches a plan to fleece credulous Californians of their cash by starting the fraudulent Tibetan School of Miracles.

But something else is happening. Through Chrysalis's reunion with her brother, she begins to discover her adoptive father's secret past, causing her

Overview

When Chrysalis Moffat and her brother, Eddie, inherit a mansion on the coast of California, Eddie hatches a plan to fleece credulous Californians of their cash by starting the fraudulent Tibetan School of Miracles.

But something else is happening. Through Chrysalis's reunion with her brother, she begins to discover her adoptive father's secret past, causing her own identity to unravel. As Chrysalis lays down the facts of her life, she gambles her identity against the contradictions, half-truths, and fables of her past, leading her ultimately to question what it is we can truly know and whether it is fate or chance that dictates our lives.

Editorial Reviews

Adrienne Miller
“A witty, imaginative debut from a young novelist with dazzling intellectual resources.”
Jerry Stahl
“[This] is a smart, big-hearted, hysterical and gorgeously rendered novel.”
Kate Atkinson
“Funny and moving, quirky and intelligent, and written in a fresh, original voice.”
The Independenton Sunday
"Breathtaking writing…the dialogue is pitch-perfect, with laugh out loud lines…an exhilarating read."
Time Magazines Literary Supplement (London)
"Original and powerful."
Dallas Morning News
“A brilliantly wicked assessment of human nature.”
Time Out New York
“A possible cult hit.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Newman …has a penetrating voice that could one day garner a devout following.”
What's On In London
“Mesmerizing … [Newman’s] clever and compelling tale is something you just can’t afford to miss.”
The Independent on Sunday
“Breathtaking writing…the dialogue is pitch-perfect, with laugh out loud lines…an exhilarating read.”
Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Original and powerful.”
The New York Times
The immediacy, humor and intelligence of Sandra Newman's writing have won her comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut. Like Vonnegut, she has the courage to follow her imagination down twisting alleyways and around unlikely corners as she spins the tale of Eddie, Chrysalis, Ralph and Ralph's stepsister, Denise, whose lives unscroll and intertwine in unexpected, absurd and sometimes touching ways. These characters' pasts take up the bulk of the book and make for entertaining and unpredictable narratives, told with wit and a sure-handedness unusual in a first novel. Newman's deadpan tone combines with an impressive facility for evoking people, places and events with a singular, eloquent detail. — Myla Goldberg
Publishers Weekly
Transforming that most pedestrian of documents-the business report-Newman has fashioned a first novel that is anything but by-the-numbers. Chrysalis Moffat, a South American orphan, has grown into a psychologically unstable young woman living alone in the California mansion of her adopted parents, both dead. Her brother, Eddie, "five foot seven inches of sheer depravity," returns from a slacker trip around the world towing a fake Buddhist guru named Ralph, and together they open the Tibetan School of Miracles in the run-down mansion, selling enlightenment to spiritually destitute Californians. But this is just the first in a series of clever false fronts presented by this sprawling, globe-trotting novel, which hops from California to Colorado, Cairo to Kathmandu, exploring Chrysalis's and Eddie's messy lives and the source of their rampant dysfunctionality. Was their father in the CIA? What, exactly, was he doing in South America when he adopted Chrysalis? And what does all this have to do with the world of professional blackjack players? The novel is full of false turns, fake names and jaw-dropping coincidences, all slotted neatly together in Newman's blunt, wry prose. The periodic forays into report format give the narrative a stripped-down authority ("1. My mother died of complications following liposuction surgery. 1.1 A mild heart attack; pneumonia; septicemia. 1.2 Long-term alcoholism was the root cause") and giddy chapter headings ("Dave Something Scottish," "A Battle Between the Forces of Good and Evil"). This is a virtuoso performance, and if it sometimes reads like parody-wallowing in cancer, suicide, incest, mental illness-it more than proves Newman a writer worth watching. (June) Forecast: Growing buzz-fueled by an excerpt in Harper's and rave British reviews-will likely be heightened by Newman's exotic backstory. An adopted child herself, she has worked as a secretary at a London firm of industrial spies and as a professional gambler's assistant. Six-city author tour. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Moving from a California commune to a Singapore hotel to a mountain hut in South America, this postmodern novel uses a report format to peel back layer after layer, revealing a mystery at its core. Chrysalis is a Guatemalan orphan rescued and adopted by an American biochemist working on germ warfare for the CIA. Crosscutting the account of Chrysalis's childhood odyssey is the story of her growing up in San Diego. There, she and an asthmatic brother live in a derelict mansion with a mother who seeks refuge in alcohol because of her husband's frequent absences. After their parents die, Chrysalis and her brother turn their mansion into a spiritual retreat with a fake guru named Ralph. David Lynch and Dave Eggers aficionados will find much to admire in this edgy, strange, and dazzling first novel. Recommended for most public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/03.]-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A paralyzing case of writer's block, plus a serious depression following her mother's death, means that Chrysalis Moffat, California girl by way of Central America, won't be completing her doctoral dissertation on Dr. Faustus any time soon. Instead, she is first distracted then entranced by her own private deal with the devil, aka her depraved brother Eddie, inheritor of the family's rundown mansion. Together the siblings open a phony spiritual retreat, the Tibetan School of Miracles, led by Eddie's crony Ralph, an equally phony, if charismatic, guru. As the school's success soars, unintended consequences complicate the trio's con game, to put it mildly. Style is the chief hook here, as Chrysalis's dry tone and seemingly straightforward narration (often organized into the numbered paragraphs of a formal report) provide comic counterpoint to numerous over-the-top, out-of-sequence subplots involving-among other things-biological weapons, alien abduction, divine visitations, professional gamblers, guerilla war, unrequited love, and suicide. This deft and edgy first novel, reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's early fiction, will appeal to older teens who like the notion of adding a regular dash of outrageousness to the mix of everyday reality.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Life hammers in spectacularly messy fashion the adopted Third World daughter of showily dissolute Californians. Written and laid out as if its relentlessly disaffected author were unable to switch off the outlining mechanism in her word-processing software (and who among us has not suffered that terror?), Newman's supermodern tale of Chrysalis Moffat, Guatemala-born and southern-California reared, her hopelessly drug-, love-, and booze-wrecked brother Eddie, a.k.a. Jack, and Ralph, Eddie's Tibetan Buddhism savvy English potter chum clicks restlessly back and forth through their appalling histories as they huddle in the mouldering mansion bequeathed Eddie by their late mum. As we join them, Chrysalis is in the throes of near-fatal depression, hunkered under her bed, assailed by random memories of her booze-soaked mother and her long-dead John Wayne look-alike father, a scientist for the CIA who brought her back as a toddler from one of his missions in Central America. Short and dark in the Mayan fashion, Chrysalis, though intelligent, never really fit into California life, and neither of the children was enough to jerk their mother out of her dependencies on chemicals or lust for the broad-shouldered father. Eddie arrives, Ralph in tow, as Chrysalis is close to death by starvation and looniness. Eddie is full of a plan to turn the mansion into a profitable school of Buddhist life management, a reasonable business plan for that part of the country. Chrysalis immediately swoons over Ralph, the relatively levelheaded son of a Romany prostitute whose addictions at one point took her to the Himalayas, where Ralph, amazingly engineered for survival, picked up fluent Tibetan. As the meditationcenter comes into shaky existence, the three lives are reviewed in flashback, revealing coincidental connections among their various parents and siblings, and the truth of Chrysalis' actual parentage and the horrifying truth of her orphanage is revealed. Oh, and considerable useful information about the percentages of blackjack is shuffled in. For young hipsters who can't be bothered with coherence.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060514990
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/15/2004
Series:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

What People are saying about this

Adrienne Miller
“A witty, imaginative debut from a young novelist with dazzling intellectual resources.”
Kate Atkinson
“Funny and moving, quirky and intelligent, and written in a fresh, original voice.”
Jerry Stahl
“[This] is a smart, big-hearted, hysterical and gorgeously rendered novel.”

Meet the Author

Sandra Newman is the author of The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, which was short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award. She is also the author of the novel Cake; the memoir, Changeling; How Not to Write a Novel, an irreverent how-to guide with Howard Mittelmark; and The Western Lit Survival Kit. She lives in New York.

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Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is by far the best book I have read in years. As a BN bookseller I read quite a bit and cannot express how wonderful this book is. The format is fresh and original and makes the book an easy read.