Staff Picks

Wonderland: A Tale of Hustling Hard and Breaking Even

Liam Dooley

May 09, 2024


In her memoir, Nicole Treska reflects on her complex family history, reframing her memories from a source of difficulty to an opportunity for connection.

Wonderland: A Tale of Hustling Hard and Breaking Even by Nicole Treska, Simon & Schuster

Dealing with family can be difficult in and of itself, managing numerous interpersonal relationships spanning generations and intersecting history, politics, and life experience. But it gets harder when your family has a history of crime and ties to the mob, and harder still when you want to move away from those associations without alienating yourself from your family. Nicole Treska manages the best she can. 

In Wonderland: A Tale of Hustling Hard and Breaking Even, Treska writes about her turbulent life in the mid-2010s. After moving from her hometown of Boston to New York City to build her own semi-honest life, she returns briefly to be with her father after his sister passes. Being back in Boston brings to mind her family’s connection to the Winter Hill Gang and her father’s criminal past, including a brief stint in prison. Around this time, Treska also visits her sister in Denver, whose marital problems mirror those her parents faced growing up. Throughout all this, Treska also attempts to navigate a complicated romantic relationship with a man only ever referred to as “the Turk,” with mixed results. And, of course, rent is always due at the end of the month. It’s an endless onslaught of memories, responsibilities, and unknowns that Treska recollects and organizes to find meaning.  

Treska’s voice is powerful. She writes with conviction and does not doubt her memory, even when recalling decades-old conversations. And from subtle wording to italicized accents, she will not let you forget that she hails from Boston. She sets the stage in the city and allows the past and present to flow freely. In a single conversation with her father, Treska’s prose can invite in family myths, mob anecdotes, and reflections on her new life in New York City. Childhood afternoons bleed into passionate love affairs and fights about family. Treska’s sincerity, vulnerability, and ability to find meaning and draw connections in so many parts of her life are impressive. 

Wonderland also presents an interesting perspective on hustle culture. To make ends meet and become financially independent, Treska operates a small Airbnb operation from her spare bedroom against the conditions of her lease. Between classes at City College, she washes sheets, scrubs the bathtub, and updates neighborhood information for guests. It’s a good gig for a while, but even with the reliable income, Treska is still on edge, wondering when it will surely end. Then landlords change, surveillance becomes strict, and renter’s rights are chipped away in court. Airbnb, like many side hustles, can be unpredictable. What’s profitable initially is often unsustainable, leaving these workers to find other odd jobs. Side hustlers like Treska are lucky if they can manage to break even. 

Additionally, Treska poses many questions about life, love, family, money, and happiness, and the answers are rarely clear-cut. One of the questions I found especially intriguing stems from her relationship with her father—he means well but still breaks promises and fails to repay debts. How do you repair a relationship like that? And if the first step is forgiveness, how do you forgive someone who isn’t asking you to? Who maybe doesn’t deserve it? Who you’re not even sure will change? 

Wonderland is a witty, earnest, and captivating read, with heaps of family history embedded in snapshots of time. Treska’s honesty is inspiring, inviting the readers to consider their own family, where they come from, and how the past is still with them. The Treska family stories she shares range from absurd to nostalgic to tragic, and they’re not just entertaining. They recognize that family matters can get messy, but they don’t have to be seen as shameful and hidden away. Instead, openness can lead to community, connection, and togetherness. 


About the Author

Liam Dooley is a former intern at Porchlight Book Company and an alum of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. With knowledge of creative writing craft and style, he’s eager to see the lifecycle of books once they’re actually written. He can be found in DIY concert spaces, trying to make sure his earplugs don’t fall out. In his spare time, he delights in taking up various hobbies with no regard for his lack of experience.

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