A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
Published by Algonquin Books
This novel centers around Pete Dinzinoff, a fortysomething doctor who loves his wife and his teenage son, Alec, and is content with the choices he’s made to offer the kind of life he has always wanted for his family. Pete’s best friend has a daughter, Laura, who was estranged for the family for years, but has recently moved home while putting the pieces of her life back together. The book explores what happens to these two families, and to Pete specifically, after Laura has returned home.
The summary I provided here is extremely vague, because while this seems like an ordinary story, there’s a lot more than meets the eye, but to say exactly what the “more” is would be giving too much information. The summary on Goodreads gives too much away, in my opinion, while the summary on my book jacket led me to believe that the book was going to be something completely different from what it was. So – if you’re going to read this book, skip the summaries.
Anyway, I am not sure what to think of A Friend of the Family. For one thing, it is a very character-driven novel, and I really didn’t like any of the characters. The reader spends almost the entire book inside Pete’s head, and to be honest, Pete is pretty much a jerk. He’s self-absorbed, thinks his way is the only right way in just about every situation, and believes strongly that he gets to make major decisions for his son’s life, without giving a shit about what his son actually wants. He annoyed the crap out of me. And since the reader only sees the other characters from his point of view, it’s difficult to really get to know any of them. It’s like a half-assed version of the characters, because Grodstein presents them with some complexity, but it’s almost exclusively through Pete’s eyes so these characterizations aren’t exactly reliable.
I really did like Grodstein’s writing – the way she described things, the simplest of moments and interactions between people became super poignant with her talented writing style. I had a difficult time with the plot itself at times – it was slow throughout much of the book – but the way she twisted things towards the end of the novel, barreling towards a shocking conclusion, really impressed me. The ending was unexpected and really threw me for a loop, in a good way.
I think overall A Friend of the Family was just okay for me. Ultimately I will read more by Grodstein, because I think she is certainly a talented writer, but the main character of this novel was just so insufferable that I could barely stand it and the plot left something to be desired. The ending was good, but didn’t make up for those two major negatives for me.