The Sound and the Fury
Faulkner’s masterpiece is a fractured portrait of four siblings coming of age in the ashes of the post-Civil War South. He wrote The Sound and the Fury after his first three books failed to garner him much critical or commercial success, and the result is his most formally complex novel but also his most deeply felt. “Did you ever have a sister?” Quentin Compson says, and the line reads like a belligerent challenge to anyone who might question that bond. This is a book about growing up and growing apart, a haunting and tender ode to the lost childhood of siblings.
The Most Fun We Ever Had
This story of four sisters wrestling with the messy realities of adulthood was one of my favorite novels of last year. It’s witty, large-hearted, and beautifully written. The Sorenson sisters are all drowning in their own private despair, concerned that their lives don’t measure up to those of their parents, or their siblings. It’s a feeling anyone from a large family can probably relate to.
Family of Origin
A lot of sibling narratives fall under the banner of domestic fiction, which often involves people sitting around living rooms discussing old hurts and betrayals. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s always nice when a novel incorporates a slightly more exotic locale. After learning that their father has died, estranged half-siblings Elsa and Nolan Grey travel to an island where a group of eccentric scientists are studying a rare sea duck, who, they believe, is proof that evolution is running in reverse. This book is hilarious and wise, and my only regret is not reading it sooner.
East of Eden
Steinbeck may be best known for The Grapes of Wrath, but East of Eden has always been my favorite. The biblical references run deep in this story set in his beloved Salinas valley, and nowhere is that more apparent than in sibling rivalry between the two brothers, Cal and Aron. Much like The Sound and the Fury, it’s a novel about the dissolution of an American family, though told in a far more conventional style.
This Is Where I Leave You
On the opening page of Tropper’s novel, the narrator, Judd Foxman, remarks, “There is no occasion calling for sincerity that the Foxman family won’t quickly diminish or pervert through our own genetically engineered brand of irony and evasion.” The tone is quickly and hilariously established in this story of a family coming together to mourn the death of their father. This is a novel that expertly balances humor and pathos, without ever coming off as flippant or saccharine.
Three accomplished, globe-trotting siblings in crisis take refuge in the last place they would ever expect—back home in Chicago, with one another. Though they’re successful, each of the Brennan siblings have serious issues to work through. When they come home for the holidays, they discover that the bonds between siblings are unshakable and begin to reckon with their problems.
As someone who comes from a large extended family, I’ve always been fascinated by sibling relationships, and how they change over time. When we’re young, our siblings are a constant—and occasionally annoying—presence in our lives. But as we grow older, those relationships are often eclipsed by the ones we form in adulthood—husbands and wives and partners and children. With my novel, The Resolutions, I wanted to acknowledge that change, while also inventing circumstances that would return my characters to their youth. These five books are about how siblings shape and define us.
Featured image: @Andrew_Paul via Twenty20