Monday, March 29, 2010

Never Tell Our Business to Strangers

Never Tell Our Business to Strangers is Jennifer Mascia’s very personal account of growing up the only child of parents who never saw a law they figured might apply to them. Laws were for suckers – and Johnny and Eleanor Mascia did not consider themselves suckers. Only suckers pay their fair share of income tax or use credit cards with the intention of actually paying off the huge amounts they charge. Only suckers go through life without a spare identity or two for emergencies or with only one social security number. The Mascias knew how to beat the system, so they did it. But, as Jennifer Mascia would learn, there was much more to her family’s criminal lifestyle than credit and tax fraud.

Johnny Mascia, alias Frank Cassese, loved his wife and daughter with a passion. Despite the rather volatile dynamic shared by the family, it would, in fact, be difficult to find three people much more emotionally bound to each other than the Mascias. Jennifer never doubted that her parents loved her, even as the family made sudden moves from New York to Florida, to Houston, and finally on to California where her father built what was, for a time, a successful carpet cleaning business. Eventually, the business would fail and the Mascias would return to New York where it all began.

It is easy for parents, especially those as streetwise as Johnny and Eleanor Mascia, to hide things from their young children. Jennifer, however, because she had vague childhood memories of seeing her father arrested at home and carted off to jail, suspected there was something very different about her father. But, because her mother insisted the arrest was a simple case of mistaken identity and she never felt comfortable confronting her father about it, Jennifer did not learn the truth about his criminal past for several years. And what she eventually learned shocked her.

Johnny Mascia had been a petty criminal most of his life, even managing to associate himself at some low level with one of New York’s infamous crime families. He was the kind of drug dealer who found it difficult not to consume the product himself before he sold it. If this were not bad enough, Jennifer’s mother finally admitted to her that Johnny had served 12 years in prison for murder. But even this was not the whole story, and Jennifer would learn that her father was an even more vicious killer than she had first been led to believe. Jennifer was stunned by what she learned about her father’s horrible past, a history everyone else in her extended family already seemed to know. She was equally stunned to learn that, despite knowing everything about her husband, Eleanor Mascia would stay with him during the very years he was committing the worst of his crimes.

Maybe she should not have been so surprised by her mother’s choices, however, because Jennifer is very much her mother’s daughter, as she shows in her own inability to see her parents for what they were: criminals who never repented their crimes. She speaks of their credit and tax fraud as if this is just quirky, humorous behavior on their part, and she never seems to connect the father she loves with the very real depravity of his violent crimes. Jennifer Mascia truly loved, and still loves, her parents and I suspect that she grieves over their loss every day, as she should. She misses the only parents she ever had and that makes perfect sense. I do, though, find it disturbing that Johnny Mascia’s family and friends could justify his murders by telling themselves he killed only lowlife drug dealers who either owed Johnny money or had stolen from him – as if drug dealers obviously deserve to be disposed of this way. Because what, after all, was Johnny Mascia himself but the same kind of lowlife drug dealer he murdered– and much worse? Jennifer Mascia’s story is a fascinating one, just not in the way that I expected it would be when I began reading it.

Because it is packed with detail and even a few “subplots,” Never Tell Our Business to Strangers does not make for easy reading. It is well worth the effort, however, of those wanting insight into the minds of children who experience the kind of upbringing Jennifer Mascia received from her parents. Jennifer Mascia has done well to escape, so successfully, her upbringing and family history and I wish her well.

Rated at: 3.0

(Review copy provided by publisher)


  1. Since I am immensely skeptical of the veracity of all memoirs, how much of this might you guess was either fabricated or embellished?

  2. It sounds like a good read...but I understand JoAnn's skepticism.

  3. Yes, I too can see how this may have been embellished - on the other hand - the strangest things do happen - and it sounds like a good read. thanks indeed for sharing this thoughtful review.


  4. JoAnn, I didn't get the impression that any of the book is "made up." I think if she had taken that route, the story would have been much more spectacular. As it is, she doesn't reveal a whole lot of detail.

  5. True, Bybee...pretty bad history lately for memoirs and crooked writers.

  6. Hannah, as I said (up there), I don't think this one is fake...but I'm no expert on picking out that kind of thing...just a gut feel on my part.

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