7 Books About Dysfunctional Families (To Read Instead Of Interacting With Yours This Holiday Season)

by  | November 23

The holidays are upon us, and a sense of dread has been hanging over you for weeks like the sword of Damocles. And that was just the election.

Now you have to think about mashing potatoes, marshmallowing yams (who was the genius who came up with that?), uncanning a log of congealed cranberries, and withstanding the drama that is sure to come out over the dinner table.

You might think your family is full of goofuses and dodo brains, but rest assured that there are those worse off than you. For instance, in these seven books, families neglect, fracture, and in one case, even murder. Now your truther second cousin who always HAS to bring up chemtrails doesn’t seem so bad, does he? Happy holidays glommies.


1. I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This by Nadja Spiegelman

Nadja Spiegelman’s recent memoir details the complex, tumultuous relationship between her father, the creator of Maus, and her mother, an art director for the New Yorker. Spawning from bohemian parents can be rough for a young kid trying to find her place in the world, and Nadja’s relationship with her mother in particular is the key theme of the book.

Some recent studies suggest that trauma can be inherited genetically, particularly in children of Holocaust survivors, as the Spiegelmans were. Marianne Hirsch actually coined the term “post-memory” in an analysis of Maus; post-memory suggests that we subconsciously pass along our stories to our children, creating dysfunctional patterns that echo for generations. This concept was explored in the second season of “Transparent,” and is devastatingly self-evident in Nadja’s memoir as well.

Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

281145152. The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Jade Chang’s lauded debut novel follows the Wangs, a Chinese-American family impoverished by the 2008 financial market crash. Patriarch Charles Wang sets out on a road trip with his wife Barbra (as in, Streisand) to gather their three grown children, eldest daughter Saina, art student Grace, and aspiring comedian Andrew. Charles is a stubborn and polarizing character whose strict points of view often butt against his family’s wishes. Besides, traveling across the country in a packed car provides for some high-stakes conflict that only severe claustrophobia can bring.

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71sjpkgagtl3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Studies may be iffy on how much emotional trauma is passed down in families, but Eugenides demonstrates the literal origin of Calliope Stephanies from DNA going back to his great-grandparents. Cal is intersex, and takes readers on a century-spanning journey, back to a small Greek island where his grandmother and grandfather, brother and sister, traveled to Ellis Island and married, keeping the secret of their incestuous relationship. You can whinge about your racist uncle and old-fashioned aunt this Thanksgiving, but count your lucky stars you don’t have Cal’s 5-alpha-reductaste-deficiency (try saying that five times fast) to deal with.

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51gy2mlxabl-_sx328_bo1204203200_4. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Wavonna Quinn, the protagonist of this controversial debut, was not born in the most stable of circumstances. Her mother is an addict with several obsessive compulsions, including fits in which she finds all food and surfaces dirty, scrubbing her daughter clean of them until she’s raw. Her father is a deadbeat dirt bag who sells meth and has stooges from a motorcycle gang do his bidding. Wavy and her little brother are eventually cared for by Kellen, one of her dad’s stooges. Love or hate the relationship at the heart of the novel, you’ll agree that Wavy needed rescuing from the prison of her family.

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2016-04-12-1460496167-705869-thedinnerparty15. The Dinner Party by Brenda Janowitz

If you thought the Middlesteins were the only hysterically dysfunctional Jewish family in town, then you haven’t met the Gold family of The Dinner Party. In this book, the two families come together for the first time during a Passover seder, when the male heir of the Rothschild fortune begins dating Sylvia Gold’s youngest daughter. Edie Middlestein has nothing on protective, long-suffering Sylvia, and the seder table is an ideal place for past grievances and repressed drama to play out. When you finish the last page, you might just have an overwhelming urge to give your own mother a call.

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51jkhkfviel-_sx303_bo1204203200_6. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

The fateful Days are perhaps neck-and-neck with the Quinns for Most Dysfunctional Family, but I’d say the slaughtering of a whole family minus one daughter makes Gillian Flynn’s second thriller our tragic winner. Libby Day is the only survivor of the night now referred to as the “Satan Sacrifice,” in which her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered. Libby continues to live her life with the assumption that her brother Ben committed these terrible acts, only to discover otherwise. Between All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Capote’s In Cold Blood, and this, Kansas seems a rather sinister state for nuclear families.

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sundays-on-the-phone-to-monday-9781501116872_hr7. Sunday’s On the Phone to Monday by Christine Reilly

Oh, the unforgettable Simones. Parents Claudio and Mathilde, artists and bohemians at heart, are struggling to raise their three children in Manhattan. There’s cold and elegant Natasha, sensitive and tender Lucy, and untethered Carly, adopted and searching for information about her biological family. The Simones may seem like a regular nuclear family at first, but when was the last time you MacGyver’d a secret marriage between your mentally-unstable institutionalized sister and your gay brother-in-law? That’s what I thought.

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