6 Dysfunctional Families From Novels You Wouldn't Want to Spend Thanksgiving With
Let me guess: You love your family, but the holidays kind of stress you out. (Or, you don't love your family and holidays really stress you out.) Everyone tries to focus on the fun parts of the holidays — the insane amounts of food, the presents, the good will toward (wo)men — but we still can't forget the less-than-pleasant moments that come along with all that. Just think: It could always we worse. You could be spending the holiday with dysfunctional families from books. (And you know books love dysfunctional families.)
Maybe you hate having to sit next to your weird uncle at dinner, or you can't bear to listen to the tirades of your too-old-to-be-PC grandmother, or you don't feel like lying to your cousin about how cute her new baby is when she can't stop talking about him. I'm not saying your family isn't tough to deal with, but I am saying that there are characters that have it way worse than you do. So next time you start to dread the holidays, just think of these six dysfunctional families from literature who are having a way more awkward family gathering than you are this Thanksgiving. It should make you feel thankful for your own personal slice of crazy.
1. The Godley Family: The Infinities by John Banville
Take your dysfunctional family, combine it with the most dysfunctional family of all time, the Greek gods, and you've got The Infinities. The Godley family has gathered around the bedside of Adam, a famed mathematician, as they wait for him to die. His son Adam is in a strained marriage with his beautiful movie star wife Helen, while his daughter Petra hears voices. Oh, and neither are on good terms with their mother.
To top it all off, the Greek gods have taken a liking to the family, with Hermes narrating while Zeus tries to seduce Helen, and Pan inserts himself in the family dynamic. Banville writes some of the most beautiful prose in fiction, which only lends to the overall surreal, melancholy tone of the book. So next time you sit down to an awkward family dinner, just think: at least Zeus isn't trying to sleep with your sister-in-law.
2. The Binewski Family: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
The Binewski's carnival is struggling, so they decide to breed their own freak show by purposely disfiguring their children. The end result is hunchbacked albino dwarf, conjoined twins, a boy with flippers (who ends up being a cult leader), and a telekinetic. Oh, and to keep the oddness going through to the next generation, the hunchbacked albino dwarf and the flippered brother eventually have a child together who has a tail, which she happily shows off as an exotic dancer. Still feel like complaining about having to sit next to your "weird" aunt and uncle at the table? Geek Love isn't for the faint of heart, but if you're going for dysfunctional, nothing quite beats a family of circus freaks.
3. The Humpbert Family: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Holy awkward family dynamic, Batman! On his perpetual search for the "nymphet" of his dreams, Humbert Humbert meets Charlotte Haze and her 12-year old daughter, Dolores, who he nicknames "Lolita." Charlotte quickly falls in love with Humbert, who only has eyes for the preteen. To stay close to his precious nymphet, Humbert marries Charlotte and continues his seduction of the girl. Ick much? Mother and young daughter are competing for the sexual attention of the same man, and even worse, each knows that the other is competition. Can you imagine being Charlotte and finding out that your handsome new husband only married you to get close to your barely pubescent daughter? I'll take a rain check on attending that holiday dinner party, thanks.
4. The Lambert Family: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Lamberts are basically what you're terrified of letting your family become. Patriarch Alfred is a mean old man suffering from Parkinson's disease and dementia. Matriarch Enid spends her time dealing with Alfred's failing health and worrying that her kids have abandoned their good, old-fashioned Midwest values. The kids are an even bigger disaster: Gary refuses to acknowledge his depression or his deteriorating relationship with his wife; Chip lost his job as a college professor over an affair gone sour and now works for a Lithuanian scam artist; and Denise struggles to hold down a job as a chef as she begins to have an affair with her boss's wife. All Enid wants to have her family together for one last holiday, and all I want is to never have a holiday with that much awkwardness.
5. The Edelstein Family: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
When Disney creates a story about a family where each member has a unique ability, we get the high-flying adventure of The Incredibles. When Aimee Bender does it, we get the beautifully sad Edelstein family. As a child, Rose learns that she can taste the emotions of others in the foods that they cook. Unfortunately, not all of these emotions are pleasant: she can taste depression, loneliness, and even her mother's affair. Her father refuses to step into a hospital out of fear for his own potential gift, while her brother Joseph just wants to disappear from the world forever, and he has the ability to do so. So, while your holidays dinners may be a drag, at least you don't have a relative who can taste how much you don't want to be there in your side dish.
6. The Wellwood Family: The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
Imagine sitting down to dinner with your abnormally large, confusing, and somewhat troubled extended family, with everyone desperate to tell you exactly what they've been up to in life. That's kind of what it's like to read The Children's Book, though hopefully your family doesn't have quite as many problems. The story's matriarch is Olive Wellwood, a successful children's book writer who has seven kids of her own and surrounds herself with Fabians, anarchists, artists, and various other interesting individuals. The story of her giant family intersects with the lives of a number of families around her, including that of an eccentric potter and a seemingly proper banker and his kin. The book follows its many characters through the Victorian age into WWI, documenting each family member's (sometimes depressing) life.