Summer Reading B2G1 Free

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2003


The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done


The Mysterious Ways of Chrysalis Moffat

A review by Adrienne Miller

Here are the central facts of Chrysalis Moffat's life: she was adopted; she's originally South American (now Californian) she has a charming older brother named Eddie; she has been working on her Ph.D. thesis for the better part of a decade; her fabulously wealthy mother has recently died of a liposuction surgery gone hideously wrong; she and Eddie have inherited their mother's lavish house (and her disconcerting Jackson Pollack painting). That's pretty much all she knows about herself. The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done is a biting satire — one that poses the big metaphysical questions about the nature of existence — about Chrysalis's madcap, deranged and heartbreaking spiritual quest for self-determination and identity. When her adoptive mother dies, Chrysalis has a bit of a mental meltdown, and hides underneath her bed for a very, very long time (her only friend: her stuffed rabbit). Her salvation, as it were, comes in the guise of a pseudo-guru named Ralph (Ralph's maddening sister Denise, who may or may not have been abducted by aliens, turns out to be brother Eddie's salvation, and his demise). Newman is extremely adept at complex characterizations, and particularly excels at showing, in her narrator Chrysalis, a brain on the verge of breakdown: "Two particular women laughed in shrill spikes of sound that made me think of spear flowers." As in any great novel, the characters here grow richer, and more mysterious, as more is revealed about them. This is a witty, imaginative debut from a young novelist with dazzling intellectual resources.

Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor.

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