Why is it so wonderfully delightful to witness the dread and misery of characters who return to where they are from? Is it the sheer thrill of voyeurism when we get to peek behind closed doors into lives that may be a little worse off than our own? Is it the comfort of knowing we aren’t the only people out there that may find our loved ones a bit challenging from time to time? The world may never know. But why don’t we leave those questions to the gods and simply look at tales of homecoming. These 5 books are particularly perfect for those of you traveling back home for Thanksgiving.
A friend recently said to me “I dunno, Chabon doesn’t do it for me.” I replied, “You’re a monster.” Okay, that might be a bit aggressive, but I’m a huge fan of Michael Chabon because he has this fantastic gift of emotion and wonder in his prose. His most recent work of fiction is somewhat autobiographical, informed by his experience returning to his mother’s home in Oakland, California, to visit his terminally ill grandfather. In this fictionalized account of Chabon’s life, the narrator also goes home to help his mother care for his ailing grandfather. Doped-up on pills, the grandfather begins to tell secrets and stories that the narrator has never heard before. They are as enthralling as they are bizarre and left me questioning everything I ever knew about my own grandfather. Two takeaways from this book: 1. When your mother calls to say that your dying grandfather is hopped-up on meds and spilling his guts to anyone who will listen, you get on the plane. 2. Never trust grandparents. They are all liars.
Jonathan Tropper’s books make me laugh out loud on the subway. That’s hard to get me to do. In this slightly morbid romp, Judd Foxman returns home to sit shiva with his family for his father, who has just died. Just before he receives the news of his father’s passing, he walks in on his wife in bed with his boss. Not bad enough? His entire family has descended on the house they grew up in and have forced Judd to take the basement for a bedroom. Over the course of the following days, they play host to a variety of friends and neighbors paying their respects, while they juggle their own prickly family relationships. The book is way better than the film, so do yourself a favor and read this before you watch it.
Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva and spend seven days and nights under the same roof. This Is Where I Leave You is a humorous, emotional novel about the ties that bind—whether we like it or not.
The Lamberts practically created the genre of dysfunctional family drama. And whenever I travel during the holidays, I will always see someone with a copy of this book on the train or on the flight. It’s a story that makes you feel it is possible that your family is normal after all. The Lamberts return home at a turning point in each of their lives when they are all on the verge of self-destruction. Alfred, the 75-year-old patriarch of the family, is stricken with Parkinson’s disease and has become grouchier than ever. Over the course of the novel, you see the struggle each character must go through to make the corrections in their lives in order to find some semblance of peace.
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.
If you are looking for a grittier way to travel back home, definitely pick this one up. Nicolette is a woman who got out of Dodge when a young girl from her hometown went missing 10 years ago. When she returns home to care for her ailing father (sick dads bring everyone home), she is confronted with the past. And guess what? Another girl has gone missing. As if that’s not enough, plot twist, the entire book is told backward. From Day 15 to Day 1. Not joking. A backward book. And it’s fantastic. Grab granny’s crocheted afghan off the couch and curl up. This one will have you biting your nails deep into the night.
A spellbinding psychological thriller told in reverse, Megan Miranda’s first novel for adult readers is about the connected disappearances of two young women ten years apart in the same small town. Miranda has an uncanny talent for suspense. Megan Miranda’s new novel, THE PERFECT STRANGER, is just out.
Read a review of the book Megan Miranda can’t stop recommending.
An oldie, but a goodie. Published in 1940, this novel tells the story of a man who returns to his hometown to find its inhabitants a bit icy toward him. It may be because of all of the truths and secrets he revealed about them in his book. What ensues is a dense tale of love, redemption, and the human condition. I recommend this book if you are straight-up trying to ignore your family for the entire visit. You’ll be at it for a while: it’s 704 pages of strong writing. So you may want to tell grandma that she’s stuffing the bird on her own this year.