TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH by Mary L. Trump (Simon & Schuster, 225 pp., $30)
When discussing his father in his memoir "Trump: The Art of the Deal," Donald Trump stresses the business savvy he gleaned from the late Fred C. Trump. "I learned about toughness in a very tough business, I learned about motivating people, and I learned about competence and efficiency."
In "Too Much and Never Enough," Mary L. Trump, the president's niece, describes those lessons somewhat differently. In her telling, her wealthy grandfather was a suffocating and destructive influence: emotionally unavailable, cruel and controlling. Fred Trump both instilled and fortified his middle son's worst qualities while lavishing on him every opportunity and financing every mistake, to the point that both men came to believe the myths they had created.
Mary Trump's deftly written account of cross-generational trauma is also suffused by an almost desperate sadness — sadness in the stories it tells and sadness in the telling, too. She writes that her father, Freddy, the oldest child of the Trump family, was robbed of his birthright and happiness for committing the unforgivable sin of failing to meet Fred's expectations. Freddy was supposed to take over the family business, was supposed to be a "killer," which in the Trump family means being utterly invulnerable. Instead, he became a commercial airline pilot, an ambition his father constantly mocked.
The Trump family tried hard to quash this book, based on the terms of a settlement in a long-ago lawsuit. They failed, and Mary Trump does offer some embarrassing, even silly, stories about growing up Trump: that Donald paid a friend to take the SATs for him; how Trump and his wives regifted old food baskets and used designer handbags as Christmas presents; that the president's sister, Maryanne, a former appeals court judge, described him as "a clown" with "no principles."
More memorable are this book's insights and declarations. Mary describes her grandfather as a "high-functioning sociopath," a condition that can include abusiveness, ease with deceit and indifference to right and wrong. Couple that with a mother who was often absent because of health problems, and young Donald began to develop "powerful but primitive" coping mechanisms, Mary Trump writes, including hostility, aggression and indifference to the neglect he experienced. Unable to have his emotional needs met, "he became too adept at acting as though he didn't have any."
"Too Much and Never Enough" is a kind of revenge, perhaps. But her ultimate sin against the family is not helping the Times or trashing her uncle in print. It's that her book is not really about Donald but about Fred — not the new patriarch but the old.
As Mary Trump puts it, "Every one of Donald's transgressions became an audition for his father's favor, as if he were saying, 'See, Dad, I'm the tough one. I'm the killer.'"