Tag Archives: Dysfunctional families

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
Publisher: Little, Brown
ISBN: 978-1408709726
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I knew exactly what I was getting into as I started reading “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng. I had read her first book two years ago called “Everything I Never Told You” and couldn’t wait to start her new one. I can for sure say that I enjoyed “Little Fires Everywhere” a lot more (sorry for that Celeste, though I also enjoyed your debut novel a lot as well). The prose, the description and more than that how life in America is when it comes to consumerism and parenthood at some point mingling together is brilliantly depicted in this novel of dysfunctional families, twisted minds and family ties.

“Little Fires Everywhere” begins with a house burnt down in a closely tight-knit planned community where nothing of this sort would be dreamed of happening by its residents. The idea of well-gated community called Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997 says a lot about the Utopia and unwelcome change and how all if it disrupts the Richardson family’s seemingly happy life, when Mia (a charismatic artist) and her shy fifteen-year old daughter Pearl, move to the town as tenants in the house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents.

This triggers events – mainly the differences in their lifestyles and also what is the attitude of the Richardsons when old family friends on theirs decide to adopt a Chinese-American baby – that would one day lead to the Richardson’s own house burning. I am not giving away anything, don’t worry, but all I can say is that this book kept me up longer than I intended those two nights it took me to finish it.

Celeste Ng has this amazing quality of going easy on the reader mostly and then out of nowhere, she shows you the cracks in relationships, the changes as people interact with each other and how explosive it all is under a calm surface. I loved the writing. It is fast and yet bringing out the details of every character – the Richardson family (mother, father and four teenage children), Mia and Pearl (who I loved as the book moved along) and also the other couple – every detail, every sentence is in place when it comes to “Little Fires Everywhere”. The title is so layered – depicting the fires within and the ones that we see. The ones we also feel but deny and move along in life. If you have to read one book this October (while there is still time), make it this one.

 

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Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabo. Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes

Iza's Ballad Title: Iza’s Ballad
Author: Magda Szabo
Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes
Publisher: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 978-1681370347
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I haven’t read too many books about mothers and daughters. I am sure there a lot of them out there but I haven’t been able to cover that territory the way I have been wanting to. Every relationship when it comes to a parent gets a little complex. There are always disagreements for sure, but we don’t realize when it leads to becoming a dysfunctional relationship from an accommodating one. It happens too fast, too soon. Families are like that I suppose and a lot of writers have written and continue to write about it. I was floored by Szabo’s earlier work “The Door” – again the relationship between two women, so I knew what I was getting into and boy was I not disappointed by it!

“Iza’s Ballad” is about Ettie – the old mother from an older world. Her daughter Iza as expected is from the modern world, with thoughts that are not aligned to those of her mother’s. Ettie is recently widowed and goes to live with Iza (who is now a doctor) in Budapest. Ettie was born and brought up without a formal education and came from a poor background. However, she ensured her daughter was well-educated and did not want for anything. Her husband Vince was a magistrate and Iza has taken after him. Ettie cannot get used to Iza’s way of living. Iza on the other hand has stopped being answerable to anyone. The traditional and the modern clash just as they did in “The Door”.

Szabo’s writing is not easy. It takes some time to get into but the translation by George Szirtes is spot on to the last detail. The reason I say this without knowing a word of Hungarian is the nuances, metaphors and folk references aren’t lost at all on the English reader. To me that is some good enough criteria of a great translation. Also, being a man he gets the intricacies of a mother-daughter relationship beautifully and only too accurately.

The concept is universal and hence almost every reader can relate to it. Szabo doesn’t waste her words and that is quite evident. In fact, in so many places, she doesn’t try too hard telling the reader, but just shows and leaves and that’s how a good book should be. “Iza’s Ballad” is an emotional ride and yet restrained – balancing the old and the new, the relationship dynamics and above all love and its transformation.

Book Review: The Cuckoo Boy by Grant Gillespie

The Cuckoo Boy by Grant Gillespie Title: The Cuckoo Boy
Author: Grant Gillespie
Publisher: To Hell with Publishing
ISBN: 9780955460944
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin of The Novel Cure
Rating: 5/5

I had heard of “The Cuckoo Boy” by Grant Gillespie through The Novel Cure and it was a part of my reading challenge – The Novel Cure Reading Challenge. It is a cure for adoption and yet somewhere down the line, there is to more to the book than what meets the eye.

It is a story of a dysfunctional couple – Sandra and Kenneth adopting Baby James and how their world spins out of control thereon. There is an imaginary friend David, who enters the scene and very soon there is a real friend David who also enters the picture, thus making the book and the plot, slightly chillier. The book is seen through the eyes of James and his parents. The emotional expectations are almost the centrepiece of this novel. It is about worlds colliding – the real and the imaginary, which makes the book what it is – juicier and scarier.

There are moments in the book, when you look back on your shoulder to see if there is anything going on at all. Grant does not give all the answers to readers. He makes them hang to turn the pages and find out more. It is also in so many ways a whodunit, given the situations and the revenge exacting nature of James. The book is tricky – one starts to wonder if the parents are wrong or the child is wrong, till the puzzle fits itself.

The story is tight and yet sometimes loses out on the overall communication of the plot. Having said that, I would still give it a five, because of the sheer force of writing. The dread surrounding the book is eerie and the atmosphere is only full of macabre. A read for a dark winter’s night, because this is exactly the kind of book you want to take to bed.

Next up on the challenge: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Book Review: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg Title: The Middlesteins
Author: Jami Attenberg
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-4555-0721-4
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 274
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I guess every family is dysfunctional and deals with their problems in their own way. Maybe that is what makes families what they are – the one support system you cannot do without, irrespective of the size of the family. These thoughts and more crossed my mind as I finished reading my last read of January – “The Middlesteins” by Jami Attenberg.

On the surface, the book is about a morbidly obese woman Edie Middlestein, who has been advised by the doctors to either lose weight or die and her family coming together to save her. On the other, it is about failed relationships and the cracks that appear sooner than we know and how life has the ability to never let things go the way we want them to. Edie and Richard have had a wonderful American suburban life for over thirty decades with their kids – Robin and Benny, a nice house, a great job and everything seems rosy, except for Edie’s eating disorder. Richard leaves Edie and then it falls on the kids and Benny’s wife Rachelle to get things in order, for almost to save Edie.

At the heart of the book, there are always so many questions gnawing the reader’s mind: Why did Edie eat the way she did? Didn’t she know the implications? Why did Richard leave her? Also, what I found most intriguing in the book was the way their religion (Jewishness) is inter-connected beautifully in the book, without overtaking it. The Middlesteins has been written very well and that is what kept me turning the pages. The writing is wonderfully structured and goes back and forth in time to explain the things Edie and the rest of the family does. Of course the more traditional elements of every dysfunctional family are brought out excellently, so I could also somewhere see parts of my family there – the sort of inane connect a reader has with a book. Read it if the idea of something dysfunctional and full of some dry humour captures your interest and attention.

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