I’ve just started reading Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins and it is my favourite kind of book - an analysis of an ordinary family’s psychodramas and dysfunctional relationships. Since my own novel, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, also deals with this murky territory, I thought I’d make a top ten in honour of dysfunctional families.
1. The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
Mom is morbidly obese, maybe dying. Dad leaves her. Son’s wife cuts Dad dead. Daughter drinks heavily etc I love it all!
2. Naked by David Sedaris
Sedaris’s family relationships are so strained in these autobiographical stories it’s sort of awful, but somehow hilarious at the same time.
3. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Where do I start? Never have a group of more screwed-up people been gathered together in one book. Read it and weep.
4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Creepy Humbert is in love/lust with his teenage step-daughter; need I say more?
5. The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
If I reveal any of the ways in which the family in this story is not quite right, it will spoil all the surprises, so I’ll leave it up top you to find out.
6. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
Also autobiographical, Running with Scissors is the story of how Augusten’s mum abandoned him in the ‘care’ of her unhinged psychiatrist and his nutty kids. Not for the faint-hearted.
7. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Franzen is the king of the dysfunctional family drama. That is all.
8. We, the Animals by Justin Torres
A fiction, but I believe, largely autobiographical, this raw, ferocious and amazing book is the story of three boys being raised by parents who are barely more than children themselves.
9. You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon
Two half-brothers, both messed-up and struggling in their own ways, meet for the first time, and the results aren’t very pretty. Typically Chaon-esque this book is sinister and a little gritty in a psychological way.
10. White Noise by Don DeLillo
The quintessential blended family, featuring kids from about 5 marriages, this novel celebrates the messiness and joy of family relationships.
Your turn: What’s your favourite book about families? Do any of these strike a chord with you?