The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done

The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done

By Sandra Newman

HarperCollins, Hardcover, 9780060514983, 400pp.

Publication Date: June 1, 2003


When Chrysalis Moffat and her brother Eddie inherit a mansion on the coast of California, Eddie hatches a plan to fleece credulous Californians of their cash by starting the fraudulent Tibetan School of Miracles. With Ralph as the would-be guru and miracle worker, the "school" quickly becomes more successful than anybody first imagined.

But something else is happening. As Chrysalis begins to discover her adoptive father's secret past, her own identity begins to unravel. Was it actually in Peru that she was born? What has the CIA got to do with it? Who is Denise Cadwallader? At the same time, Chrysalis is being drawn into Ralph's strange and compelling world: a realm of mind-blowing coincidence, obsessive gambling, and mysterious siblings.

It is rare that novels come as intelligent and as funny as this one. Newman reveals a subtle understanding of human nature and our philosophical dilemmas, while at the same time charting a hilarious roller-coaster ride through the flotsam of American pop culture: from Californian Buddhist retreats to the temples of gambling, from secret agents to UFOs, and then around the corner to the parking lot of the nearest 7-Eleven.

At its core, The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done is a novel about self-discovery. As Chrysalis lays down the facts of her life, she gambles her identity against the contradictions, half-truths, and fables of her past, leading her ultimately to question what it is we can truly know, and whether it is fate or chance that dictates our lives.