On the Page: LMPR’s Favourite Books on Family
Beyond the Sugar Plum Fairy and St. Nick, the holiday season often means more time with family. This week, the LMPR team shares their favourite books that explore the many definitions of family and the lively chaos that often accompanies them.
This inspiration for this edition comes from Blackbird Theatre’s upcoming production of Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov, where familial chaos does indeed comes home for the holidays, running Dec 23 to Jan 18 at The Cultch.
Sarah Cruickshank – A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin
For the past few months I’ve been chugging away, page by page at George R. R. Martin’s series Game of Thrones. While I’m not usually one for fantasy, the interweaving plot lines and distinctly vivid characters have completely sucked me in!
These books aren’t about family per se, but family histories, relationships, loyalties, and betrayals are hugely significant and provide rich fodder for each character to explore. In this world, the characters are defined in part by the “house” in which they’re born into. Martin even associates sigils with each house – lions, wolves, dragons, etc. – that only strengthen that sense of family identity.
Brian Paterson – Freedom by Johnathan Franzen
While not exactly heartwarming, Franzen’s Freedom is a riveting novel that uses a single family to beautifully and tragically evoke the great issues of our time. At its onset, the Berglunds are a perfect-on-paper family of socially-progressive, forward-thinking individuals. This cohesive unit fractures and shatters however, as each doggedly follows the path they believe will bring meaning and happiness to their life.
The issues it addresses are vast in scope and complexity — corporate corruption, environmental protection, the institution of marriage, and the rise of the ultra-right, to name a few — but it touches on each so deftly and through such engaging narrative that it never feels belaboured.
Though released fewer than three years ago, the book is already hailed as a classic, and will likely represent our era for generations to come.
Laura Murray – Fall on your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Fall on Your Knees is certainly not your typical heartwarming family story. MacDonald’s first novel – a saga spanning several generations of familial strife, set against the geographic backdrop of Cape Breton – is at once completely absorbing, totally enthralling, and utterly distressing. It is the kind of story that keeps you up late into the night because you can’t bear to put it down.
We follow the Piper family whose complex world is steeped in secrets and lies, and unspoken truths. The tense, emotionally honest plot is riddled with unexpected twists and turns and spellbinding characters that keep you coming back for more.
Fall on Your Knees is a richly layered tale of inescapable family bonds, of miracles, attempted murder, and forbidden love that you won’t soon forget.
Rachel Lowry – Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s debut novel is a captivating tale of two families – one in India and one in America – who share the bond of their daughter, Asha.
Crossing emotional and geographical terrain, Asha returns to the heartbreaking slums of Mumbai as a twenty-something journalism student determined to seek her birth family and her story.
Secret Daughter is told through the interwoven memories and experiences of Asha, her birth mother, Kavita, and her adoptive mother, Somer.
Rebecca Sharma – Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This extraordinary family saga is one for the modern epoch. Middlesex is the second novel by Greek-American Midwesterner Jeffrey Eugenides and it tells a rich multi-generational story of Greek immigrants with a genetic secret. With layers as delicious as baklava, it has a little bit of everything: part family tree, memoir, medical case study, sexuality enlightenment, love story and cultural history.
There’s a very frank beauty about this book. Eugenides glosses over nothing. Despite the many struggles faced by three generations of one family, their reality is never bleak. Even when the book is at its darkest, Eugenides scribes hope in the lives of each tenacious and resilient character.