Hands up if you come from a dysfunctional family? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? When I was growing up, my mum was constantly telling my brothers and me to “act like a normal family.” By that she meant: no hair pulling and no jumping on furniture. Extra points for being pleasant to one another. We could do it for brief periods of time, particularly if a reward was provided, but after ten minutes or so, all bets were off. I distinctly remember thinking we must be really dysfunctional. It didn’t occur to me until I was older that people could be more dysfunctional than us. That some families had some really bad things going on. I discovered this, mostly, through books.
Baby Teeth, by Zoje Stage
In this creepy thriller, Zoje Stage pits a mute, seven-year-old bad seed (Hanna), against her physically and emotionally vulnerable stay-at-home mom (Suzette). Hanna is a girl who barks at her teachers, feeds a schoolmate paint, antagonizes her babysitters, and…contemplates how to best murder her mother. And there’s another problem: Hanna is a perfect angel in the presence of her father, and Suzette’s struggling to make him believe they have a very disturbed daughter on their hands. Oh, and reader beware: There’s one scene that will induce an unshakable fear of thumbtacks.
Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
In the darkest, most twisted Gillian Flynn novel of them all, Camille Preaker, a deeply troubled, alcoholic reporter, begrudgingly returns home, to the tiny town of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate two unsolved crimes. Once there, she’s forced to reunite with her disapproving, smothering, hypochondriac mother, Adora, and her beautiful but devious half-sister, Amma. When these three unite under one roof, it makes for one of the most jaw-dropping homecomings ever committed to the page.
The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne
In the present, Helena Pelletier has a loving, perfectly functional family – a husband and two beautiful daughters. In the past, not so much. That’s because Helena’s father is the notorious Marsh King. He kidnapped her mother at the young age of 15, and imprisoned her inside a remote cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Helena grew up knowing none of this, until she finally pieces together the puzzle of her mother’s tragic past, flees, and helps send her father to prison. Flash back to the present: her father’s escaped, and he’s coming for her. It all makes for an unputdownable, nail-biter of a read.
The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
This one is a memoir, though it will be hard for you to believe this isn’t fiction. In this book, four siblings must learn to take care of themselves as their responsibility-averse, well-meaning parents lead them through an unconventional, nomadic childhood that will have you gasping, laughing, and crying all at once. (This one also makes me feel better when I’m having a bad parenting day).
Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burrows
Also a memoir, this is the story of a boy whose mother gave him away to live with a nonconformist psychiatrist and his strange family, where they housed a pedophile in the back shed and played with an electroshock therapy machine for fun. Dark, sometimes funny and downright disturbing, this is a book that will haunt you long after you turn the last page.
The Dinner, by Herman Koch
A fictional tale this time, and a gripping one at that, this is the story of four adults who get together for dinner to discuss their children. The ‘children’ are actually teenage boys who are caught up in a horrific act that has triggered a police investigation. As civility disintegrates, each family shows how far they’re prepared to go to protect their children … and that, in this instance, the apples don’t fall far from the trees.
In Her Shoes, by Jennifer Weiner
A story about two sisters who have absolutely nothing in common apart from shared DNA and a tragic past. But when the younger sister hits rock bottom and comes to her sister for help, things get a lot worse before they get better.
The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
A great story about five siblings who have lived their lives believing they have a nest egg coming their way. But when the oldest brother Leo’s accident puts that nest egg in jeopardy, years of tension between these five siblings finally starts bubbling over.
What about you, do you have a dysfunctional family? If so, give one of these books a go, and I guarantee they’ll have you feeling like your family isn’t so dysfunctional after all.