Book Review: Mary Trump’s memoir exposes a rancid, cruel, heartbroken family


By Heather Mallick, Toronto Star

After finishing Mary Trump’s memoir of growing up with her Uncle Donald, I close the book and look at it. It emanates disgust, as if it contains things so rancid they’re not even compostable.

Too Much and Never Enough,” subtitled How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, is a classic of several genres: misery memoir, political history, case study, J’Accuse. I read this kind of book often, feeling it’s my duty, but this one contains so much cruelty to children from tiny to adult, so much sulphur, that I have to COVID-scrub my hands afterwards.


Fred Trump, a malevolent, brutal, racist, scheming, tax-dodging real estate developer from Queens, N.Y., fathered five children, Maryanne, Fred Jr., Elizabeth, Donald and Robert, with his wife Mary. Fred was a sociopath and Mary was an absent damaged mother, writes his niece, also named Mary.

They ruled over a toxic American family home, punishing, taunting, manipulating, setting up each child against the others, breaking hearts and sending one boy, Fred Jr., to an early grave.

Fred Jr. was Mary’s father, intended as the heir to the family residential real estate empire. The problem was that he wanted to be an airline pilot rather than run apartment buildings in Queens. So his father set out to destroy him financially, mentally and emotionally, like a human being put on a lathe. The lathe turned and turned, and Fred Jr. became a destitute divorced alcoholic who died of torment and neglect.

And that was the kid Fred Trump liked. Donald as a younger child watched his father bully Fred Jr., who would apologize and try endlessly to please an unpleasable man. Fred had no love in him, and any favour he bestowed was “entirely conditional,” Mary writes. You obeyed or you were humiliated and terrorized.

When the Trump siblings, nieces and nephews were invited to the White House in 2017 for an iceberg lettuce, meat and potatoes dinner, Maryanne told the table, “We’ve come a long way since that night when Freddy dumped a bowl of mashed potatoes on Donald’s head because he was being such a brat” to little Robert.

Everyone laughed, “while Donald listened with his arms tightly crossed and a scowl on his face,” just as he did when Obama mocked him publicly in 2011.

Trump hates humiliation because he has no inner core of strength to fall back on, but he loves to humiliate those beneath him. “The role that fear played in his childhood and the role it plays now cannot be overstated.”

Trump learned how to be cruel at his father’s knee, and added loud and brash to the mix. Why be cruel at all? one asks. “The cruelty is the point,” Mary writes.

Gems like that fill the book. And there are revolting scenes: Fred Jr.’s post-divorce exile to a wretched apartment filled with pet snakes; Mary’s grandmother nearly choking to death at the table as Trumps ignored her (I call this one “Sounds of the Heimlich Manoeuvre in Another Room”); Fred burying his dead son’s ashes despite the son’s lifelong terror of burial; Maryanne so poor she begged her mother for Crisco cans of dimes and quarters.

Donald Trump was a lousy businessman and a serial bankrupt. Brash carried him through, brash covered failure, and brash made his presidency more grotesque than was ever imagined. Brash Donald cheated his siblings out of their inheritance.

Fred Trump developed Alzheimer’s and began wearing an obvious wig, along with dyed magenta eyebrows and moustache. Sound familiar? Donald began treating his once-greatest ally, his ailing father, with brutal contempt. Loyal Trumpers, sound familiar?

Trump remains a boy, a mean little boy. Mary writes that she wants to end the common practice of referring to his “strategies” or “agendas” as if he has an organizing principle. He does not. Again, he is hollow.

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Whenever Trump says something is the greatest, the best, the biggest, the most tremendous, he is “the same little boy who is desperately worried that he, like his older brother, is inadequate and that he, too, will be destroyed for his inadequacy.”

Mary’s implication is that this will happen on Nov. 3 the election day. Trump may end up a gibbering, addled, enraged mess. So no change there.



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