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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.