The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done by Sandra Newman
A Novel

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Synopsis

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.

 

About Sandra Newman

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Sandra Newman is the author of the novels Cake and The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done. Her writing has appeared in Harper's, Granta, and other publications.
 
Published January 1, 2002 by Chatto & Windus. 320 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done

Kirkus Reviews

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Chrysalis immediately swoons over Ralph, the relatively levelheaded son of a Romany prostitute whose addictions at one point took her to the Himalayas, where Ralph, amazingly engineered for survival, picked up fluent Tibetan.

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The Guardian

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5.) Eddie meets a man named Ralph in Colorado, and something impresses Eddie, something unaccountable attaches him to Ralph, as happens to guys whose fathers were sufficiently absentee.

Nov 16 2002 | Read Full Review of The Only Good Thing Anyone Ha...

The Guardian

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Since then, her biochemist father has met a mysterious end on some shady CIA business, her PhD on Dr Faustus has led her through lethargy into catatonic depression, and she has lost her cruel, charming brother Eddie to wanderlust and her alcoholic mother to a botched liposuction operation.

Aug 10 2002 | Read Full Review of The Only Good Thing Anyone Ha...

Entertainment Weekly

When mom dies, the family's California mansion is left to Chrysalis' belligerent brother, Eddie, who turns it into a Buddhist institute led by a sham shaman named Ralph.

Jun 27 2003 | Read Full Review of The Only Good Thing Anyone Ha...

PopMatters

But like the students at the Tibetan School of Miracles, who believe what they want to believe when Ralph waves his magic silver wand (it’s a spray-painted chopstick, by the way), we’ve paid our bucks and we’ve gotten our money’s worth—if not in anything of real substance, then in just savoring a...

Aug 13 2003 | Read Full Review of The Only Good Thing Anyone Ha...

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