It’s that time of year again! Time to spend a few days with the extended family for the holidays. Whether you dread spending time with your family or love them to bits, these books about dysfunctional families will keep you entertained and a bit grateful. While some are true and some are fiction, all will leave you with a mixture of horror and laughter.
The king of the dysfunctional family memoir has got to be Augusten Burroughs. Most readers have fallen in love with “Running with Scissors,” but I highly recommend reading his latest title, “A Wolf at the Table.” This novel focuses on his early years and his relationship with his alcoholic father. The reader is laughing at Augusten’s wacky personality, while crying because this sad story of abuse is actually true and quite painful. With classic Augusten gems like, “I strung one of my mother’s gigantic bras across the back of two kitchen chairs and set Ernie (his guinea pig) into one of the cups, like a hammock…” this powerful and disturbing novel is carried by Augusten’s unique and funny talent for description.
If you think Augusten’s family was bizarre, then you need to meet Jeannette Wallis’ family in “The Glass Castle.” This bestselling memoir tells the tale of her nomadic and chaotic early childhood in the desert, then moves onto her more settled but poverty-stricken teen years in Appalachia. Her mother and father make for fascinating characters but frightening parents, as they defy convention on purpose at the expense of their four children. Jeannette, ever resourceful, even goes so far as to make her own braces out of coat hangers and rubber bands. What makes Wallis’ memoir so fascinating is the way she manages to pull herself out of the dysfunction, while her parents choose to remain homeless in New York City.
The title says it all: “All Families are Psychotic” by Douglas Coupland. This bizarre fictional tale tells about the Drummond family from Canada. Sarah Drummond (the “normal” one) is literally launching into space on a NASA space shuttle mission in Orlando, while the rest of her family reunites after a long separation to see her off…and the drama down on Earth begins. The family has very serious problems ranging from Aids, affairs, gun fights and black-market baby-selling to contend with. Both the characters and the insane plot will keep you hooked, especially if you are a Coupland fan.
“Behind the Scenes at the Museum” by Kate Atkinson won the Whitbred Prize for first novel; it’s set in 1951 and tells the tale of an eccentric pet-shop-owning British family. The story is told by the quirky Ruby Lennox. Ruby, born in York, tells of her family: a sulky mother, her cheating father, and two sad older sisters. Ruby begins at the moment of conception and tells an intricate story that spans five generations with a dash of magical realism, Yorkshire hilarity, and silliness.
Other titles to try are “Bitter Milk” by John McManus, “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen, “Her Last Death: a Memoir” by Susanna Sonnenberg, “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” by Jodi Picoult, and “The Rules of Survival” by Nancy Werlin.