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Love the Madness: 7 Essential Books Starring Dysfunctional Families

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Dysfunctional families are no laughing matter; more so when you’re a part of one. Who can stand your mother’s fiery tongue or your brother’s penchant for the absurd? Does Uncle Al always have to preach life lessons around the dinner table? Can’t we just eat for once?

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we at Off the Shelf love stories about dysfunctional families. And, as our list of books proves, we didn’t hold back on the crazy. Hope you love the madness. Happy Thanksgiving!


Running With Scissors
by Augusten Burroughs
When Augusten Burroughs’s mother gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist, he found himself living in a bizarre situation. Residing in a dilapidated Victorian home with a pedophile in the backyard shed, there were no rules and no school. Valium was consumed like candy and when things got dull, there was always the vintage electroshock therapy machine under the stairs. By turns foul and harrowing, this compelling and maniacally funny memoir chronicles an ordinary boy’s survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.

The Family Fang: A Novel
by Kevin Wilson

Owen King (We’re All in This Together) calls author Kevin Wilson, “the unholy child of George Saunders and Carson McCullers.” With his novel, The Family Fang, the Shirley Jackson Award-winning author of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth comes through in a BIG way, with a funny, poignant, laugh-and-cry-out-loud (sometimes at the same time) novel about the art of surviving a masterpiece of dysfunction. Meet The Family Fang, an unforgettable collection of demanding, brilliant, and absolutely endearing oddballs whose lives are risky and mischievous performance art. If the writing of Gary Shteyngart, Miranda July, Scarlett Thomas, and Charles Yu excites you, you’ll certainly want to invite this Family into your home.


The Corrections
by Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections is a grandly entertaining novel for the new century--a comic, tragic masterpiece about a family breaking down in an age of easy fixes. After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson's disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing specatcularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain on an affair with a married man--or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to. Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home.Stretching from the Midwest at midcentury to the Wall Street and Eastern Europe of today, The Corrections brings an old-fashioned world of civic virtue and sexual inhibitions into violent collision with the era of home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental health care, and globalized greed. Richly realistic, darkly hilarious, deeply humane, it confirms Jonathan Franzen as one of our most brilliant interpreters of American society and the American soul.


We Need to Talk About Kevin
by Lioniel Shriver

Now a major motion picture by Lynne Ramsay, starring Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly, Lionel Shriver’s resonant story of a mother’s unsettling quest to understand her teenage son’s deadly violence, her own ambivalence toward motherhood, and the explosive link between them reverberates with the haunting power of high hopes shattered by dark realities. Like Shriver’s charged and incisive later novels, including So Much for That and The Post-Birthday World, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a piercing, unforgettable, and penetrating exploration of violence, family ties, and responsibility, a book that the Boston Globe describes as “sometimes searing . . . [and] impossible to put down.”


Flowers in the Attic
by V.C. Andrews

They were a perfect family, golden and carefree—until a heartbreaking tragedy shattered their happiness. Now, for the sake of an inheritance that will ensure their future, the children must be hidden away out of sight, as if they never existed. Kept on the top floor of their grandmother’s vast mansion, their loving mother assures them it will be just for a little while. But as brutal days swell into agonizing months and years, Cathy, Chris, and twins Cory and Carrie realize their survival is at the mercy of their cruel and superstitious grandmother…and this cramped and helpless world may be the only one they ever know.


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But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we at Off the Shelf love stories about dysfunctional families. And, as our list of books proves, we didn't hold back on the crazy. Hope you love the madness. Happy Thanksgiving!
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