Jeffrey A. Goldstein wrote this memoir of his childhood as a record of his family’s psychological and physical abuse, and of his “journey to a better place.” It starts slowly, gaining some momentum as it goes.
This sensitive and quick-witted storyteller picked up Yiddish by listening to his grandparents (he knew five ways to say “penis” before kindergarten), and won over girls and bullies alike by imitating the non-conformist attitude that the Beatles displayed at press conferences.
The abuse came largely at the hand of his cheating, perpetually indebted father, who was “often pleasant” but regularly exploded with rage and violence. He belittled and choked his son, but his masquerade as a good father to the neighbors “hurt me more than the abuse.” Goldstein candidly relates how the family was haunted by the death of his older sister, Sheryl, from leukemia when the author was 7. His anguished mother told him that he was the bad one and should have died instead. (They ultimately reconciled.)
The abuse was undoubtedly significant, but entertaining stories of the appealing young man’s superior performances academically, socially, athletically and romantically predominate, rather than gut-wrenching scenes of Goldstein’s struggles that would allow readers to connect emotionally with the story. While we learn that Goldstein started seeing a psychiatrist at age 14 due to panic attacks — and was prescribed Valium and talk therapy to help him overcome sadness and rage — Goldstein doesn’t flesh out the therapeutic process enough to give readers insights into his trials. That story peters out, and we wonder how the relationship with his therapist wrapped up.
Overall, the memoir lacks the strong narrative arc that would make his story appealing for general readers. And its relentless optimism, which downplays the author’s difficulties, will make it challenging for others in the same situation to relate. As a result, the story is likely to find a limited audience.