Dear Ravenous Readers,
I just spent Thanksgiving with my contentious family. It was all I could do to keep track of which relatives weren't speaking with each other, keep my politically polar-opposite siblings civil, and keep my uncle away from the bourbon. So I find it comforting to read about other dysfunctional families. I loved The Nest: Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney feels my pain. Any other titles you can recommend? Fiction only please. With more holidays on the way, I have enough reality to cope with.
Ties That Bind
You're not alone. Fiction is filled with flawed families, each dysfunctional in their own way. Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's The Nest is a bird's-eye view of grown siblings who are martyrs to their festering grudges, angsty over their disappearing shared inheritance and unafraid of behaving badly. I can see why you're attracted.
Jane Austen is known for having had an eagle eye for personal foibles, and some modern retellings of her classic novels offer spectacular family dynamics, updated for the way we are dysfunctional now. In Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld's hilarious take on Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family lies in disarray in Cincinnati, where mom is addicted to the shopping network, Kitty and Lydia are Paleo dieters devoted to Crossfit and inappropriate football players and Elizabeth tries to maintain family decorum while propping up Jane's romance with a reality TV bachelor and indulging in occasional "hate sex" with handsome but chilly neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy. Similarly, Cathleen Schine revisits Sense and Sensibility with The Three Weissmanns of Westport in which two middle-aged sisters find themselves financially-embarrassed when their elderly parents divorce, forcing them to abandon the comforts of Manhattan for a seedy Connecticut beach cottage, with comical results.
There's no shortage of dysfunction in The Portable Veblen, where problematic parents are the gift that keeps on giving. Veblen, the novel's quirky heroine, is engaged to marry Paul, a brilliant neurosurgeon. She is not without misgivings, though, most of them having to do with her relationship with her uber-narcissistic, hypochondriacal mother--one of the most stunningly awful mothers to appear on the literary scene in some time. Her fiance's parents -- Palo Alto hippies who aged badly and learned nothing from the experience--are no better. Can this marriage be saved? Can it even happen? Author Elizabeth McKenzie was nominated for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for this sparkling and compulsively readable novel.
And, on an astral plane, Daryl Gregory's Spoonbenders introduces the amazing Telemachus family, in which mom and the kids have supernatural abilities that run the gamut from clairvoyance to telekinesis while dad, a conman and a fake, runs the family's stage show. When an appearance on a popular TV program goes abysmally wrong, the family renounces magic and heards home where they drift into discontented lives. The thing about magic, though, is that it won't stay renounced; when it barrels back into their lives the bickering siblings find themselves bound together in ways they hadn't imagined.
Speaking of siblings, what kind of parents would give a girl's sister away? The configuration of Rosemary's family is anything but traditional--dad is a psychology professor, mom is a scientist and Fern is--well, Fern's role in the family dynamic provides a reason to contemplate what it means to be human. Karen Joy Fowler won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2014 for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
(And visit our Award Winners page to find Faulkner and Booker winners and runners-up in our catalog!)
For even more suggestions, try this colleague's list:
Ever wonder if your family is the only crazy one out there? You are not alone! Thanksgiving is the perfect setting for stories about family relationships. Get lost in the drama of the following titles. ~ Betsy @ PCPL
So, pour yourself and eggnog, Ties, throw another log on the fire, and enjoy someone else's family dynamics for a while. Happy Reading!
Helene for Ravenous Readers
Looking for books in all the wrong places? Fill out the email form here to get expert, personalized reading suggestions from the Ravenous Readers. We may feature your question on the website, ut your name will remain anonymous.
Any other ideas for Ties that Bind? Let us know in the comments below.