The Twisted Library — September 2, 2015 at 11:30 am

After Perfect: What It Means To Fall From The 1%



Diving in to the audiobook After Perfect by Christina McDowell was similar to diving into an actual swimming pool. Initially, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it. The ostensible cry of “I’m too rich, it’s not fun anymore” hit me like ice-cold water, displeasing and offending me. I thought that the entire book was going to be about a wealthy girl who became slightly less wealthy and it made her uncomfortable. I thought it was going to be about someone in the 1%, who dipped down to maybe the 7% and was not happy about it. As someone who has never had extra money and someone who, since adulthood, has never been exactly financially comfortable, I really felt as if I wasn’t going to appreciate this story. Thankfully, though, I stayed for a little while longer and was able to get used to the water.

This novel revolves around the demise of one family’s wealth due to the stock market controversy (yes, The Wolf of Wall Street situation) and what happens after the dust settles. I admittedly didn’t know, and don’t know, much about that particular incident or the stock market itself. That wasn’t really an issue, though, because that itself is the point of this story. The point is how this one family, this one girl in particular, goes from living a life of utmost luxury to one where they have to actually look at price tags, worry about bills, and experience the intense displeasure of having more money going out than coming back in. The arrest of Christina McDowell’s father was only the beginning of her journey into figuring out what it means to be on the other side of privilege, on the other side of perfect.

The best part of this book is McDowell’s genuine tone. She never comes across as whiny or bratty or anything else you would potentially assume someone in her position to be. Yes, she grew up in a mansion, with private jets and hummers and silver spoons. But that wasn’t her choice; she was born into it and that is how she was raised. She was taught to never talk about money, never think about money…so she didn’t. It’s impossible to blame her for that. She just never knew anything different. She was the self-proclaimed “American dream,” the “girl who had everything.” Money was simply something that never occurred to her. Until she didn’t have it anymore.

“Financial security is often an illusion…” McDowell states in regards to the initial moments after her father’s arrest–the moments when the bank was going to take away their house, when her family realized there was no more money left, when everything really started to unravel. All of a sudden, she sees how fleeting and intangible wealth and comfort can really be. It’s hard not to feel badly for her, sympathetic because she did nothing wrong and truly did not even know how sheltered and wonderfully she was living up until that point.

Everything falls apart for the author. She has to figure out how to get a job, suffering her way through bar and club gigs where she gets endlessly sexually harassed and horrified. She has to deal with the fact that her father put all his credit cards in her name, so it’s her responsibility to either pay them back or sue her father for fraud. She has her eyes open to awful realities she wasn’t even aware existed up until that point. She has to watch her mother collapse, has to watch the people who used to be her friends continue life happy as always…worst of all, she has to watch the life she used to live from the outside, from her new life.

I think it can be easy for a lot of people living in the “99%” to look at those with wealth, or those who come from wealthy families, with disdain and resentment. It’s easy to feel angry at the unfairness or the injustice of having so little when others have so much. This book sheds a new and different light on the people in this bracket, especially the children who grow up without any understanding of the world outside this beautiful bubble of luxury. McDowell’s rug was swept out from underneath her, leaving her unsure of how to handle all the debt, how to pay for rent, how to get a job, even how to fold laundry. Imagine not learning any of that growing up, then it being thrust on you all at once. I grew fond of the author while listening to this, and found myself really rooting for her. I admired her strength and her perseverance. There was one moment when she mentioned her mother, who was having trouble getting a job in her 50s, after having spent her whole life relying on her husband (McDowell’s father). Christina then vows to never let herself get into the position where she depends on a man for financial security or stability in any way. It was empowering; I silently applauded her.
After finishing this book, I found myself with a slightly altered mindset in regards to those who seem to be living the life of luxury. Most of the time it isn’t always what it seems to be, and even worse, it can all go away in the blink of an eye. I’ll think twice next time before jumping to a judgment about a girl who seems to have it all.

Twisted Talk: Do you listen to audiobooks? What’s your favorite? Discuss below!

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