Kitchens of the Great Midwest
J. Ryan Stradal
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a perfect read for Thanksgiving weekend. A love of cooking and midwestern roots connect each chapter of this story. When a chef named Lars Thorvald’s wife leaves him and their baby girl to run off with a sommelier, he sets out to share his passion for food with his daughter. But life, like a soufflé, doesn’t always turn out how you want it to.
This Is Where I Leave You
Mort Foxman’s dying wish is that all four of his grown children come home to sit shiva for seven days. For the first time in years, the family is forced to live together under the same roof and in no time, old grudges and grievances re-emerge. To make matters worse, Judd Foxman has just discovered his wife is cheating on him, with his boss—and she’s pregnant. This book is dark and funny, and the childish dynamic between the adult siblings will be painfully familiar to anyone who dreads going home for the holidays.
I'll Give You the Sun
Jude and her twin brother Noah share a deep and powerful connection. They can read each other’s minds and sense when the other is in danger. But when their mother dies in a car crash, the family falls apart. A chasm of grief and betrayal divides them, and as the years pass each becomes unrecognizable to the other.
My Name Is Lucy Barton
When the mother of two young girls in New York City must stay in the hospital for weeks on end after a surgery, her mother travels from a small town in Illinois comes to visit her for a few days. Lucy and her mother are estranged and haven’t seen each other in years. As the novel unfolds, Lucy struggles to come to terms with the poverty and abuse she endured as a child, and how it has shaped her, and her relationships, as an adult. This is a brief but memorable book that will stay with you long after you finish.
The Dinner (Movie Tie-In Edition)
One evening in Amsterdam, two sets of parents meet for dinner in an upscale restaurant. Over the course of the meal we learn that each couple has a fifteen-year-old son, and the boys have committed a heinous crime that was caught on camera. The police haven’t yet identified the culprits, but the parents recognize their children when the footage is broadcast across the country. All of the characters are loathsome, and deliberately so. If you’re looking for a good guy, you’re not going to find one in this book.
A family of New Yorkers embarks on a two-week vacation to Mallorca to celebrate the thirty-fifth wedding anniversary of Franny and Jim, and the high school graduation of their teenage daughter. Fun, right? That’s what every family thinks before spending a week under the same roof. Infidelity, sibling rivalry, long-simmering resentment, family secrets… FUN.
A Gate at the Stairs
I read this book six years ago, shortly after my son was born. Maybe I was sleep deprived, maybe it was the hormones, but oh my god it seriously traumatized me. The actions of the parents in this book are so unforgivable that one scene haunts me to this day. I gotta give it to Lorrie Moore for her ability to create fictional characters so despicable as to have a visceral impact on her reader.
Dysfunction and family go together like turkey and mashed potatoes. And the holidays tend to bring out the worst in all of us. Most of us don’t get to choose our families, and it can be infuriating to be bound to people we may have nothing in common with but biology and/or history. As Tolstoy famously writes, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And that makes for rich storytelling.
Here are 14 novels with a uniquely unhappy family at the core. And there are so many more that didn’t make the cut. Some were simply too obvious: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, Nabokov’s Lolita, Flowers in the Attic . . . We excluded memoirs since pretty much every memoir chronicles a dysfunctional childhood (see: Running with Scissors, Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Fun Home, The Glass Castle, The Liar’s Club.) We could go on and on.
But as you’re stress-eating leftovers this weekend and looking ahead to even more holiday gatherings over the next month, try to be grateful for the family you have. Just think, it could be worse. You could be Hamlet.
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