All Happy Families Are…Yawn

Great reviews and heavy holds lists for Jonathan Tropper’s newest novel This is Where I Leave You speak to the comfort readers find in being able to view family farce from a safe and well-told distance.

Sitting shiva for his agnostic father, Judd Foxman is also mourning his marriage and career. (They go hand in hand when your wife’s sleeping with your teeth-bleached, egomanic boss.) His self-involved siblings and cleaveage-bearing mother enjoy nothing more than picking at each other’s tenderest scabs, leaving them all with impressive emotional scars. For readers who like their domestic drama over the top (and I mean that in the best way):

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Enid Lambert is desperate for one last perfect Christmas before her husband Alfred’s Parkinson’s-induced dementia turns his family into nothing more than an unreliable memory. The three Lambert children are far from perfect, of course, and they return to St. Louis with emotional baggage from their adult lives that battles for attention with the unpacked wrongs from their childhood.

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
After you’ve served a prison sentence for “accidentally” burning down Emily Dickinson’s house, it’s really no surprise that blame falls to you when Edith Wharton’s crib gets torched. Sam Pulsifer tries to clear his name while living with his unabashedly alcoholic parents and stalking his estranged wife.

Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson
Nonny has not one, but two dysfunctional families, and now she’s stuck in a family feud that began the night she was born. Her biological family, the Crabtrees, are the poor lawless outcasts of their rural Georgia town;  her adopted family, the Fretts, are the upper-crust, can-do-no-wrong type. Her adopted mother is blind and deaf, her rocker husband is always half out the door, and her  biological grandmother sets her Dobermans on anyone she doesn’t like.

Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison
Script doctor Money Breton’s got her hands full with three ex-husbands, teams of ridiculous movie people demanding her help, money problems, a new boyfriend, undermedicated ADD, a methadone-addicted daughter, and a son whose recent assault may have exposed him to AIDS. It shouldn’t be funny. It really shouldn’t. But what can I tell you? It really, really is.

Mermaids in the Basement by Michael Lee West
Mourning the death of her mother, Renata escapes to her grandmother’s cottage, but instead of finding rest and relaxation, finds more stress, thanks to her family. Eventually, she discovers that her parents led secret lives to which she was never privy, until now: Grandmother Honora and pals have decided it’s time to let all of the skeletons out of the family closets. And to top matters off, when her father’s new fiancée is found unconscious in the pool at their engagement party, Renata becomes the prime suspect.

Kick Me by Paul Feig
The creator of the short-lived (and much mourned) TV show “Freaks and Geeks” mines the dysfunction not so much of his immediate family but of the absurdity of adolescence itself in this humorous essay collection. The humiliations of growing up are never forgotten, and in Feig’s case–that’s a good thing.

Loser Goes First by Dan Kennedy
The subtitle “My Thirty-Something Years of Dumb Luck and Minor Humiliation” really sums it up. Kennedy’s comic memoir wryly examines the genuine shock one feels when you realize that adulthood is full disappointment that you have to have to deal with yourself. The fashion, music, and other media shoutouts to the 80s and early 90s are particularly rewarding for anyone who has a love/hate relationship with grunge music and Meg Ryan movies.

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About the Author:

Karen Kleckner Keefe is the director of the Hinsdale (IL) Public Library, a Booklist reviewer, and one of Library Journal's 2009 "Movers and Shakers."

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