I’ve always gravitated towards novels involving families. True to real life, there’s so much inescapable conflict to be had, and so many calamities that can take shape. It’s a wonder how the human race has survived, considering, but we crave the payout: familial love and understanding. In my debut, The Big Finish, an elderly man without a single family tie voluntarily marches up the cannon’s mouth for want of that payout. He sees his last chance in the troubled young woman who climbs through his nursing home window. Perhaps we should shelve this under Family Adventures: Proxy. Yes, that’s a self-proclaimed category, and yes, there’s more from where that came from. In fact, here are a few to fit your mood, handpicked with books that rank among my favorites.
Family Adventures: Culture
This family saga begins when Englishman Archie Jones meets Samad Iqbal, a Muslim from Bangladesh. After their lives accidentally intersect, the two men never untangle. We follow them for decades, meet their wives, their children, all while witnessing the cultural evolution of post-World War II London—and on a smaller scale, the cultural evolution of these men’s tiny dynasties. A whip-smart, funny and insightful journey to the end.
Family Adventures: Psychology
A Thousand Acres
Ah, King Lear. A man who played favorites, bequeathing his power and land to two of his three daughters. Jane Smiley took this family drama, plopped it into present-day Iowa, and turned the screws, creating a literary masterpiece. The conflict between the Cook sisters builds until it turns into a quiet madness. It’s a unforgettable trip into the head space of dysfunctional siblings.
Family Adventures: Business
The Lager Queen of Minnesota
J. Ryan Stradal
So often books explore the conflict that occurs when you mix family and business, but Stradal takes an entirely different approach. He explores what happens when you don’t. This is the story of two sisters—a pie maker and a beer brewer—whose priorities and economics diverge so wildly, it takes one of their children’s children to potentially mend the split.
Family Adventures: Obligations
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
In his very first full-length work, Dave Egger’s narrative choices are mind blowing, as is his life story. While a college senior, Eggers lost both of his parents to cancer and inherited his eight-year-old brother, and this autobiography is a manic mix of parenting angst and twentysomething yearning. The honest look at the push-pull of family obligations cuts super close, and you will never look at the success of McSweeneys the same again.
Family Adventures: Expectations
Everything I Never Told You
Expectations are nothing new in families, but some parents pile them so high that they unintentionally bury themselves and their children. Everything I Never Told You explores this and more after Lydia Lee turns up dead in the opening sentence. But whether it was suicide, murder, or an accident is left to question until the very end, and the answer lies hidden in the each family member’s personal—and often hidden—identity.
The Big Finish