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After Perfect by Christina McDowell

After Perfect


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Christina McDowell, on your first book!

by Christina McDowell

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Quick take

‘“ Remember, Bambina. The best revenge is success,” her father tells her as he leaves for prison…’ An irresistible story about love, greed and delusion, and how the truth—after it knocks you down—really can set you free.

Why I love it

In the Prousalis family, love and money were so intertwined that they seemed like one and the same. The eldest daughter Christina wanted for nothing: a wild animal trainer entertained at her tenth birthday party; when she turned fourteen, her presents included a $2,000 Tiffany watch and a cameo role on Dawson's Creek. And when love faltered—as it did on the day her dad Tom lost his temper and threw her against a wall—lavish gifts were the remedy. Tom left the house and returned with a fancy Scarlett O'Hara doll in a velvet-ribboned box.

And then it all came crashing down. In this riveting, thoughtful memoir, Christina traces the fallout (both material and emotional) after her father's business deals with Jordan Belfort (aka the "Wolf of Wall Street") resulted in a securities fraud conviction in 2000. With Tom in prison, his family lost their home, their belongings, their very selves: if love is possessions, what are you once they're gone? Hardest of all for Christina, then 19, was believing that the father she adored had built her fairytale childhood on lies—and was lying still. Prousalis insisted he was innocent, even as he laundered money in Christina's name, stealing her identity and plunging her into $100,000 worth of debt. To distance herself from it all, Christina ultimately changed her last name to McDowell.

When the movie The Wolf of Wall Street opened in 2013, Christina wrote an open letter to Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio in which she castigated them for glorifying Belfort's (and her father's) crimes. The letter quickly went viral. (Her father then wrote a vitriolic open letter in which he castigated her for the letter she'd written.)

There's a rubbernecking-at-the-car-crash aspect to reading about Christina's fall: her spiral into drugs and alcohol, her desperate promiscuity, her abandonment of acting dreams for sleazy bar jobs that paid the rent. She isn't always easy to like—you just know she was that snooty Mean Girl in high school—but she wins you over with her smarts and the sincerity of her struggle to understand her past and move beyond its soul-deadening materialism.

"Remember, Bambina. The best revenge is success," her father tells her as he leaves for prison. You finish the book thinking she’s found success, but not in the way he meant. Hers is an irresistible story about love, greed and delusion, and how the truth'”after it knocks you down'”really can set you free.

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