Book: A Perfectly Good Family
Author: Lionel Shriver
Published: 1996 (Faber and Faber)
I’m reviewing this book because it gives me an excuse to fangirl about Lionel Shriver. Ready? Here goes.
AHHHHH She’s such a good author she expresses all the internal intricacies of life so well she’s not afraid to explore and expose the ugly parts either she gets the interplay of duty and selfishness and wanting things both ways and the consequences of that exactly right she articulates the personal war between discipline and what’s “good” for you with the spontaneous joy and equally unexpected heartbreak that comes from living recklessly she’s even got a cool name that she chose herself because she didn’t like her own AHHHHHHHH!
Okay. So, needless to say, I like this book. It’s part of a Shriver buying spree I went on after I read We Need To Talk About Kevin and The Post-Birthday World and loved both and discovered I could buy the whole rest of her output (six or seven other books) for like $3 each on Amazon. They came one by one into my school mailbox in a delightful trickle that almost perfectly matched my reading pace.
A Perfectly Good Family is about three siblings who are warring over what to do with the giant North Carolina mansion they just inherited after their mother dies. The two brothers each want to buy the other out, and they each enlist the sister to go with them; she goes along with both because she can’t make herself choose one over the other.
The characters are fantabulous conflicted mixtures of loyalties to radically different things (parents that they didn’t especially like, the house one of them loves and the other just wants to sell, each other as siblings, an audio tech business that’s hemorrhaging money) and vices (destruction, self-discipline, being wishy-washy). It’s so, so great to read such detailed people—including the parents, who are presented as saints to the outside world but are revealed as both more and less than their children ever needed.
Even the house negotiating plot is so much more interesting than it sounds because it’s presented as the official, legal embodiment of the family’s struggle. The clashing passions with their clothes pressed and their hair combed.
The ending, though, I really, really must protest. It’s much too happy for Shriver. Everything just magically works out. She doesn’t do happy endings, usually, and I love her for that because it makes her work seem more real.
This fangirl is also worried about how the movie version of We Need To Talk About Kevin is going to bring all that internal conflict which is the vital core of the plot into a primarily visual medium. PLEASE NO VOICEOVERS OH GOD THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO DO ISN’T IT.
Sigh. But I’ll end up going to see it anyway, dammit.