Monday, March 27, 2017

Guest Book Review: After Perfect

By Denise Keliuotis

We all know that girl. The pretty one. The one whose family has a lot money. The one with the happy, loving parents. The one who lives in the in the big house and who drives the nice car. The one with the perfect life. We all know her and we all envy her.

Christina McDowell was that girl – until it all came crashing down.

A grand childhood in a tony suburb of Washington D.C. was part and parcel of being the daughter of corporate attorney Thomas Prousalis, Jr., until Prousalis was convicted of numerous fraud charges. McDowell’s ignorant bliss ended the day the FBI raided her family’s home, unearthing the kinds of secrets that truly upend everything and ushering in unexpected, earth-shattering changes. Changes like losing your family home to foreclosure and losing almost every other personal possession to auction. Watching lifelong family friends disappear in the wake of scandal. Visiting your father in prison. Worst of all, realizing your father – your family, your legacy – isn’t at all who or what you believed them to be.

The aptly named After Perfect tells the story of just that: what happens after a seemingly perfect private life publicly implodes.

With beautiful, sometimes stinging honesty, McDowell shares the part of the story that the media never seems to touch upon; the pain and desperation of a family left in the aftermath when its patriarch makes criminal choices. She details the mistakes her father made before his arrest and those made by her and her mother after, in their attempt to survive. She describes the stress of unpaid bills (including the one for her college tuition), of debt made in her name without her knowledge or permission, of her newly found responsibility for her mother, who’s never once paid a bill or even written a check. Through vivid flashbacks, McDowell contrasts the ideal life she once had with the uncertain, uncomfortable life that appears to be her heritage.

Most captivating, she also contrasts the father she thought she knew – the one who showered her with attention and gifts – with the man who completely abandoned her and her family once he regained his freedom.

McDowell manages to convey heavy, almost unimaginable emotions without ever wallowing. Her writing is crisp and tight yet evocative, and she excels at capturing her sense of loss without the melodrama that might tempt a lesser writer. About surveying the contents of her childhood bedroom before the foreclosure, she writes:

"What I don’t want to let go of? I don’t want to let go of any of it, I thought as I looked around at my yellow Laura Ashley balloon curtains, where I used to hide my cigarettes, Andrew’s love letters, and the occasional bag of weed. My hand-painted MacKenzie-Childs desk, where I spent countless hours crying over chemistry assignments. . . . The bookshelf. Fine, but that was it. That was all I was willing to let go of. Everything else would be shipped to California; my entire bedroom set. I would take it all with me. . . . I wanted my possessions to cocoon me, wrap me up, and keep me safe from a world that was trying to rip it all away. It would become my way of holding on, believing someday I could put it all back the way that it was and the way that it felt when I walked inside my bedroom that night. Because I would never get the chance to say good-bye before it was already gone."

After Perfect is a story of damage and devastation, yes, but it is also a tale of redemption and renewal, if not for the man who destroyed everyone’s lives, then for his daughter – the one who found a way to pick up the pieces and build herself her own perfect life.

Thanks to Gallery for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Denise De Fabio Keliuotis is a Chicago native who recently relocated to Middle Tennessee with her husband and three daughters (one of whom is off at college – gasp!) and four cats.  She’s a licensed attorney but is not currently practicing, instead spending her time writing a novel, working as a non-legal special education advocate, and debating whether to break down and buy those cowboy boots.


Janine said...

Great review. I can't imagine having the perfect life and then losing it all like that.

Denise K. said...

Thanks, Janine!