As the holidays approach, so too do family gatherings and enforced closeness. In instances such as these, it’s good to be prepared. In other words, bring along plenty of reading material. Here is a short list of books to reassure yourself that your relatives are relatively tame when faced with some of literature’s wacky and woeful families.
‘The Ice Storm’
By Rick Moody
(Back Bay Books)
Taking place over Thanksgiving weekend 1973, the novel focuses on two neighboring families in the Connecticut suburbs. When an ice storm hits town, the families unravel as the adults cope with alcoholism and adultery, and the teens experiment with drug use and sex. Narrated by four members of the two families, Moody’s novel details the pop culture landscape of the 70s and skewers the upper-middle-class ennui that invariably leads to disaster.
‘Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim’
By David Sedaris
(Back Bay Books)
When it comes to David Sedaris, there is no shortage of stories about his wonderfully dysfunctional family. "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" offers a little bit for and about everyone in the family—his sister Lisa attempts to keep her parrot out of a movie, his brother (aka The Rooster) copes with his wife’s difficult pregnancy, and his spectacular mother locks her kids out of the house after a snow day. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh some more …pretty much like any family gathering.
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‘The Glass Castle’
By Jeannette Walls
`Tis the season to be thankful, and after reading former MSNBC.com gossip columinst Jeannette Walls’ anguished childhood memoir about growing up with less-than-stable parents—her father an unemployed alcoholic and her mother a free-spirited artist—you’ll be filling your gratitude journal with appreciation for things as overlooked as food on the table, a roof over your head, and responsible parents. Walls’ unforgettable book takes you from the Arizona desert to a West Virginia mining town, and breaks your heart in the process.
‘The Great Santini’
By Pat Conroy
(Dial Press Trade Paperback)
"One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family." So says Pat Conroy, who clearly put his own challenging experiences to good use. A great character in American literature, Bull Meecham runs a tight ship in his South Carolina household. A Marine fighter pilot, the colonel rules his family with iron will, strict discipline, and a downright cruel streak. Teenage Ben chafes under his father’s tyranny while excelling at his new school; when he defies his bully of a father to follow his own moral compass, Ben proves what a real man is.
By Jonathan Franzen
Christmas is coming and the Lambert family is falling apart. Alfred is becoming increasingly lost to dementia, while his wife Enid lives in denial. Their kids aren’t faring much better. After seducing one of his students and losing his college post, Chip is now floundering in a shady job. Denise might be heating up the kitchen as a chef, her love life is leaving her cold. And Gary’s marriage is suffocating him. Franzen takes all of this and, with masterful attention to Midwestern detail, gives us a story of a family who, while gathering for the holidays, has to face some hard realities. In the words of Entertainment Weekly, this National Book Award winner reminds us that “yes, you can go home again. But you might not want to.”
Jennifer Worick is the author of more than 25 books (including Beyond the Family Tree: A 21st Century Guide to Exploring Your Roots and Creating Connections) and a publishing consultant; she can be found at The Business of Books.