Though Mary is unsparing in her criticism of her uncle, she also sees him as a victim of a brutal childhood. She claims that his parents – Fred, a real estate tycoon, and Mary Anne, a fisherman’s daughter from the Hebrides – both traumatized him deeply. Weighed down by various mental and physical ills of her own, Mary Anne thoroughly neglected the fourth of her five children. And the heartless and punitive Fred heaped layer on layer of emotional abuse on Donald, while moulding him into the heir of the family business. The alienated and angry little rich kid, says Mary, was destined to develop into a cruel and vindictive man without a shred of empathy. “The simple fact is that Donald is fundamentally incapable of acknowledging the suffering of others.” Indeed, even illness, Mary Trump has said more recently, is seen by the president as “a display of unforgivable weakness” – hence the “horrible place” her country finds itself in over its confused response to Covid-19, and her uncle’s own recent insistence on showing his face to supporters, despite having contracted the virus.
Throughout the book, Mary’s uncle is not President Trump but simply Donald. With casual disrespect, she even deprives him of the definite article deployed by Ivana who always referred to him as “the Donald”. Mary’s professional credentials as a psychologist entitle her to briskly check off what she calls Donald’s “pathologies”, which include narcissism, sociopathy and learning disabilities that may be due to the dozen Diet Cokes he daily siphons into himself. In a startling final condemnation, she charges that his “craven need for ‘revenge’” on opponents makes him, in his nonchalance about coronavirus in New York, responsible for what she calls “mass murder”.
This is not a book full of shocking Trump anecdotes; although there are one or two. It is something else altogether; it’s a psychological profile of a horrible family. And if there is a villain here, it’s not the man who has become the worst US president of the modern era; it’s his dreadful father, Fred Trump... The reader might decide that the author would be more morally convincing if she had walked away from the money and the family. And it’s true that for all that the book is well-written and unemotive, the author never analyses herself and her motives. Yet running through every chapter is the theme of getting some recognition from this cold, conscienceless family for the tragedy of her father’s life and death.
The book is full of details of the amusing-but-scary kind. There’s a standout sequence when Mary, then in her early twenties, is helping Trump with his latest memoir, but no one seems to know what he actually does with his time and she repeatedly fails to get him to sit down for an interview. Then one night he calls her to say he has some “really good” material to share with her. The following day, she receives a manila envelope containing ten typewritten pages. It had, she writes, a “stream-of-consciousness quality”, though in contrast to the work of James Joyce, it simply consisted of a list of women whom Trump had wanted to date but who, having refused him, instantly became “the worst, ugliest and fattest slobs he’d ever met”.
She writes that her uncle exhibits all of the characteristics of a narcissist and claims he was heavily influenced by watching his father, Fred Trump Senior, bully her father, who died when she was just 16 years old.
She tells how a combination of destructive relationships, neglect and abuse, helped to create the man who currently occupies the Oval Office, particularly between Donald, his brother Fred Junior, and their father.
This furious book is at once mesmerising and excruciating. It strays too far into politics, on which the author is neither authoritative nor interesting. It has a bitter, naked agenda and the weeping sores left by Mary Trump’s childhood make her a deeply unreliable narrator. And yet she has insights that no biographer can match. She has the anecdotes, the receipts and the battle scars from 55 years as a Trump. And if nothing else she has inherited the family penchant for enacting vengeance with apocalyptic style.
Too Much and Never Enough doubles as mesmerizing beach reading and a memorable opposition research dump, in time for the party conventions. Think John Bolton-quality revelations, but about Trump’s family. It is the book Michael Wolff, the author of Fire and Fury, likely wishes he had written but isn’t kin so he couldn’t. It is salacious, venomous and well-sourced.
The thing is, there’s little about this Freudian nightmare we didn’t already know: several writers have mined this stuff, and most of us have worked out that the President is a rogue. Mary takes us much closer to the family drama than ever before, with an amusing glimpse into a family birthday party at the White House in 2017, a painfully bourgeois affair at which Wagyu beef was washed down with wine and passive aggression.
Mary Trump’s memoir is a modern-day Bleak House. Yet even in the darkest of Dickens novels, no family comes across quite as mendacious, grasping and avaricious as the Trumps. At times the reader will feel sorry for the young Donald. Who among us could cope with an upbringing like that? Then you remember that he inherited $413m and calls himself self-made. “Nobody has failed upward as consistently as the ostensible leader of the shrinking free world,” his niece writes.