Tag Archives: families

** How To Be A Family by Dan Kois

Another family-around-around-the-world story, as was Dirt, but this time we are taking an express tour through 4 different locations in a year: New Zealand, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Kansas (this for a DC-based family, so Kansas is exotic, and yes it was pretty weird to read this during shelter-in-place restrictions). How to Be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together is a pleasant enough read, although I could not ignore for more than a few moments (1) the sheer arrogance of thinking that one can understand another country in a few months, let alone its child education climate, let alone when the author does not speak the local language and refuses to do so, and (2) the delusion that family habits will change drastically as a a result of such a trip. You will not be surprised to hear New Zealand and Kansas are super friendly (for English speakers), and that most locales have a less hectic lifestyle than the DC suburbs.

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** Family Papers by Sarah Abrevaya Stein

Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century tells the story of a large Jewish family from Salonica (now Thessaloniki), which found itself a victim of wars, new borders, and the Holocaust. Along the way various members moved to France, the UK, Brazil, and India, and enough of them kept letters, photographs, and all kinds of other documents, in many languages, that allowed the author to tell their stories. The mix of personal choices and historical events is breathtaking and there are some surprises along the way.

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*** Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

The Galvins of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family had twelve (!) children and six of them were diagnosed as schizophrenic, eventually bringing them to become one of the families studied by the National Institute of Mental Health to look for DNA markers and, we hope treatment.

The story is rather frightening, as multiple children were abused by their unwell siblings while the parents tried hard to present a perfect external face–at a time when mental illness was considered shameful. Mental illness treatment has made very little progress; let’s hope it changes soon.

 

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* All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

Family patriarch is dying, and dies. He was a cheater, professionally and personally, and a violent man, and in a few days his wife, his daughter, his son, and his daughter-in-law will uncover many of his secrets and the family will implode as each flashback adds to the mayhem.

It is well observed but I found it all pretty tedious.

 

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** The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House follows a brother and sister from what could be a perfect childhood in the big house of a title with a doting staff, but minus a mother who disappeared mysteriously, all the way into adulthood, past the misery of an evil stepmother. I enjoyed the complicated relationship between the siblings and the portrait of their mother, a woman who is much more than the deserter of her children. I was taken by the story and wanted to know more. But it seems a little contrived, with all the family members attending elite schools and achieving great success.

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*** The Less People Know About Us by Axton Betz-Hamilton

The author of The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity has a mother who, having full control of the family’s finances, failed to pay important bills, stole her daughters’ identity to obtain credit, and spent a small fortune on herself. All that was perhaps discoverable during her mother’s lifetime (although her father did not really want to know, it seems), and came to light, disastrously, after her death. Since the author had since become an expert on identity theft, of which she knew she had been a victim, albeit not by her own mother, she was able to untangle most of the tangled web. Sad and scary family story.

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** Goodnight Stranger by Miciah Bay Gault

When the stranger of Goodnight Stranger lands on the island, he seems to know too much about the adult twins he befriends, so much that they wonder whether he could be their long-dead brother (why? no one really explains–and it bothered me). He insinuates himself into their lives, until the sister finally goes to seek the truth. In the process, we learn about their parents and family history. It’s all nicely mysterious and nicely told. Too bad I could never get into the delusion of the lost brother.

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** A Philosophy of Ruin by Nicholas Mancusi

The hero of A Philosophy of Ruin has a dead mother, a father who is deeply in debt, and he discovers that a one-night stand is not only a student of his, but also a drug dealer. From a meek philosophy professor, he turns into a drug runner to solve of his problems at once. It will not end well–and the adventure is mostly fun, if improbable.

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** The Altruists by Andrew Ridker

The Altruists follows a family of academics whose grown-up children seem lost after unexpectedly inheriting a fortune from their mother. The father is lost too, losing his teaching job and about to lose his house, with a tenuous relationship with a much younger woman. They try to figure things out, with the story flashing back  from the present to their parents’ courtship. The most remarkable part of the story may be the youth of his author. I did not think that the characters, with the exception of the mother, who is dead and cannot contribute too much, were particularly appealing.

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** Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

Mostly Dead Things takes place in a taxidermy shop, but it’s really the story of a complicated family, including a most bizarre love triangle involving the heroine and her brother. The ghoulish workings of the shop are really tame compared to the personal struggles. The story tries to be lively and funny but it’s really quite depressing. I’m not sure I would agree that it’s as funny as critics would like us to believe.

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