Never Tell Our Business To Strangers: A Memoir

by Lisa Kirchner

When the FBI arrested five-year-old Jennifer Mascia’s father in 1983, a family friend soothed her. “It’s not real,” he purred. “They’re making a movie.”

But although its the stuff of Godfather films, Mascia’s thrilling story is entirely true: a tight-knit family of three on the lam, crisscrossing the country to escape a decade-old murder charge. Stints in California, Florida, and New York are populated by a cast of wild characters who, like her father, live on the periphery of mob life, as the Mascias alternate between high times fueled by drug dealing and stretches spent on food stamps.

Unfortunately, an extraordinary life doesn’t always make an extraordinary book. What was fascinating in the tight confines of a 2007 New York Times Modern Love column has been inflated to book length by the insertion of a cacophony of names (every high-school friend and distant relative is cataloged) and often-mundane details about Mascias weight and love life. In expanding her narrative playing field, Mascia has leveled it, resulting in a world in which her father’s cancer diagnosis is presented on par with the breakdown of the elevator in their four-floor apartment building. Mascia, now a night assistant on the Times Metro desk and an otherwise strong writer, buries her story in long exchanges of dialogue, dulling the revelation of her family’s long-kept secrets. “It hadn’t exactly eaten me alive every day for the last six thousand days,” Mascia writes of her need to know the truth. And despite riveting raw material, readers may ultimately feel the same.

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