Ah November, it’s officially the beginning of the holiday season. A time for obligatory gatherings of people with similar genetic profiles. Yes, family. Now, some of you out there might actually have healthy relationships with your family. Good for you. You might not find these books relatable. These books have the most unconventional, tragic, awkward, and dysfunctional family scenarios. This month is all about family drama and the absolute worst case scenarios around a dinner table. Enjoy.
There may be some mild spoilers for these books but they all came out quite some time ago so… relax.
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Author Emma Donoghue
Room takes a story we’ve all heard before and spins it on it’s ear and then keeps going past where the story typically ends. The book is narrated by a child and written in his young and very sheltered perspective. See this child was born in and has only ever seen this one room. His very young mother was abducted and held captive in this room, raped consistently, and accidentally impregnated with the narrator. She gave birth and struggles to give her child any sort of education and normalcy, sheltering him for the horror that they are in.
Besides the unusual perspective room is unique in that the captive mother and child escape their oppressor, and the story keeps going. The meat of the story is what happens after they have returned home. To the family that loves them, but had already made peace with her likely death and had no awareness whatsoever of the possibility of a child.
Imagine the first holiday dinner in this situation. The uncomfortable tension and awkwardness tiptoeing around so many elephants in the room. It’s a wonderful book that was made into a wonderful movie staring Brie Larson. Either is perfect for really getting those feels this holiday season.
Recommended for really getting in the survivor spirit this season.
Buy it here: Room
If you haven’t read or at least watched the movie version of Atonement yet, shame on you. They’re both great. And if you have you know that the family featured in Atonement has drama that your family could never compete with. With a simple misunderstanding Briony changes the course of her family’s story in ways that are never full recoverable. She sets in motion a series of events that completely rupture every relationship in her family and as an adult, after realizing the full effect of what she has done sets out to atone for her grievous error.
It’s heartbreaking what naivety, jealousy, and impulsive behavior can do. There are not many dinners around this family table because the family is completely broken apart. It’s best not to give too much away because this story is so well told. It’s beautiful and captivating and tragic but has its moments of being uplifting.
Read this one and then mend some fences with your own relatives. Honest apologies are best, and the earlier the better. Don’t let a full war go by without being upfront.
Buy it here: Atonement: A Novel
Author Chuck Palahniuk
Back when I was an edgy high schooler devouring Palahniuk’s entire book list Invisible Monsters was my favorite. I read it twice back to back in a week. Not sure how well it stands up today as far as the transgender issues go but I do think it belongs on this list of dysfunctional families and specifically it contains one scene that defines what an awkward family dinner is.
As everyone is gathered around the table the the parents argue about the definition of the word “fletching,” which refers to the feathers on an arrow. Or they intend to mean “fletching” but are actually saying “feltching.” The youngest adult around the table finally snaps and gives the definition of “feltching,” as the act of performing anal sex, ejaculating, and then sucking the cum and fecal matter out of the anal cavity with the mouth. That pretty much ends the argument to what they thought they were discussing in the most awkward silence imaginable.
I will never forget learning these words through this book or the sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized that my mom borrowed this book from my shelf and now knows them too.
Recommended for anyone who has a dark sense of humor and a sibling to laugh at the grotesque with.
Buy it here: Invisible Monsters: A Novel
Author Katherine Dunn
I just read Geek Love in perfect timing for this list. I cannot think of a more dysfunctional family that I would want to avoid for the holidays. To check out my full reviews of this book go here for spoiler free or here for spoiler full.
Geek Love is about a carnival family that purposefully bred their own freak show. In addition to being deformed in their own unique ways all of the characters are their own breed of sadistic and cruel. They manipulate each other in ways that truly show the lowest that humans can go. And if that’s how they treat family just imagine how they treat outsiders!
Perfect for if you really wanna see the “it could always be worse” perspective before going home.
Buy it here: Geek Love: A Novel
Author Herman Koch
The Dinner is a fascinating tale of two upper class couples sitting down to a nice meal to discuss their children. For a good first part of the book they are quite cordial and polite to each other. Discussing banal topics of daily life while vaguely alluding to some incident that their children were both involved in. I kept thinking about “the noodle incident” from Calvin and Hobbes. What did they do? Could it really have been that bad? Without spoiling it, yes. It’s worse than you think. Their children committed a heinous act and the parents are trying very hard to figure out what to do about it without sacrificing social standing.
The author does a good job at keeping the reader in the dark until a reveal is most profound. He manages to drop just enough bread crumbs to keep us interested and then BAM! a normal dinner turns into something much much darker.
Recommended as a serious conversation starter. Maybe for families who are able to have healthy debates and not screaming matches.
Buy it here: The Dinner
Author Meg Wolitzer
To end on a lighter note is The Position. This family is more awkward than upsetting. The parents wrote a very widely published, very well known book about sex. The children have all be traumatized by this fact in their own ways throughout their adolescence and into adulthood. Now as all the children are adults they must come to an agreement on whether the book should have a new edition put out into the world. Each sibling has their own personal hang ups about sex and their place in the spotlight. They bicker and bring up past pettiness that should have long been left behind.
This dinner table would be quite entertaining to an outsider but would be absolute torture to attend. This is the real cringe worthy stuff right here. And actually probably closer to your own real family than the other books listed (I hope!).
Read this one with the whole family to enjoy a laugh and realize that we can all find common ground in shame.
Buy it here: The Position: A Novel
Comment below with your family drama recommendations or what you will be reading this holiday season to avoid some awkward conversations!