Happy Holidays from Dysfunctional Literary Families

By: Celia Laskey on Monday, November 24th, 2014

The holidays are coming up, and if you need a reminder that maybe, just maybe, your family isn’t the most dysfunctional one on earth, revisit these novels. Warning: contains spoilers!

1. We the Animals by Justin Torres

Three brothers endure a bleak childhood, entertaining each other while their parents endlessly fight, building kites out of trash, and eating the saddest scraps of food. “We ate things from the back of the refrigerator, long-forgotten things, Harry and David orange marmalades, with the rinds floating inside like insects trapped in amber. We ate instant stuffing and white rice with soy sauce or ketchup.” Doesn’t some dry turkey and soggy (non-instant) stuffing sound good now?

2. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

This book is chock-full of a-holes. A husband and a wife who both have affairs, a son who abandons his liberal family for the ultra-conservatives next door, an environmentalist who works for big coal, an indie rock star who decides to abandon fame for building roof decks… The list goes on. Everyone is full of contradictions and no one is content. If I had to sit across from any one of these people while eating green bean casserole, I might punch them in the face!

3.  Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

People do some pretty terrible things to each other in this novel. Again, we have a father who steals money from his children, a sister who half-heartedly raises her younger sister only to abandon her later, and lovers who intentionally ruin each others’ lives. With this family, I get the feeling that no one would take it upon themselves to cook a holiday dinner. They’d all show up and say, “didn’t you bring the ham?” But somehow, none of them hate each other for it, and I don’t hate them either.

4. Arcadia by Lauren Groff

If you’ve ever said to someone, “God, my parents are such hippies,” you might reconsider after you read this book about a young boy growing up on a commune in the 60s. In the beginning everything seems pretty ideal, but it quickly becomes obvious that there’s a dark underbelly to utopia. It’d be tofurkey with a side of devastation at this family holiday.

5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Did your gambling, pill-popping Dad try to steal your college fund to pay off a debt to a crime syndicate? Not quite? Then maybe you should sit across from your father, eat your mashed potatoes, and listen to him talk about what a good deal he got on the new snow blower.