Yours Isn't So Bad When You Read 6 Books About Dysfunctional Families
Books that will make your own family feel just a little more normal!
Dysfuctional Families In Books
At some point or another, we all tend to think our families are dysfunctional, and maybe they are. Who am I to judge? I grew up in a very dysfunctional family and can totally relate! That's probably why reading books about dysfunctional families can actually be therapeutic and make you feel a little less alone in the world.
We read books for a variety of different reasons. We read nonfiction to learn something or use them for reference, we read science fiction and mystery novels to escape from the real world for a bit. But if you come from a dysfunctional family, reading a book about a dysfunctional family isn't exactly escapist. That's okay! Books about dysfunctional families don't have to be escapist for you to get something out of it besides entertainment. Being able to relate to what you're reading is an incredible feeling or, in the case of some of these novels, finding that some families are even more dysfunctional that yours can be incredibly freeing.
1. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson's last novel before her death, is about the Blackwoods, a well-off family living in a small village. Six years before the beginning of the novel, four members of the Blackwood family - three adults and a child - died during dinner after arsenic was put in the sugar they sprinkled on their blackberries that night. Constance, oldest child, didn't eat sugar and always prepared the meals, was charged with their deaths but acquitted. After that, the village ostracized Constance, her sister Mericat, who was sent to bed without dinner, and their uncle Julian, who was poisoned but survived.
The codependent relationship between Constance and Mericat, the jealousy Mericat expresses when cousin Charles comes to visit and his subsequent schemes toward the family fortune, and Uncle Julian's need to remember detail of "that night" create a very strange dynamic between the remaining members of the Blackwood family.
2. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The family dysfunction is right in the title of Oyinkan Braithwaite's novel, My Sister, the Serial Killer. Korede has always been overshadowed by her younger sister, Ayoola. She's the favorite, the beautiful one. The murderous one. And now her third boyfriend is dead. Ayoola gets her sister involved when she asks Korede to help her clean up a bloody crime scene. Being a nurse, Korede knows the best ways to clean up blood. She's also very aware of the fact that, after three kills, her sister is officially a serial killer.
After the doctor Korede is in love with asks for Ayoola's number, Korede is forced to deal with the person her sister has become and the extent she's will to go to protect her. "Fraternal loyalty collides with sibling rivalry, and one of these women is deadly with a knife."
3. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
All of Gillian Flynn's books are fantastic and rife with family dysfunction, but there's something especially off about the family in Sharp Objects. A recent mini series on HBO, Sharp Objects recounts reporter Camille Preaker's estranged relationship with her hypochondriac mother after she returns to her hometown to cover the brutal murders to two young girls. Toss in a sister who died in childhood, a half-sister Camille doesn't really know, and an aloof step-father, and there is plenty of dysfunction to go around. Without giving too much away about this page turner, Camille's past and present must reconcile if she's to solve the case of who is behind the murders of the young girls.
4. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Since it's publication, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home has been a hit. Enough so that a Tony-winning musical was adapted from the graphic memoir. Chronicling Bechdel's life growing up and her relationship with her father.
Her father was a man of many trades; a funeral home director, a high school English teacher, a preservation expert, and a restorer of Victorian homes. He was also distant and deeply in the closet, something that should have connected Alison her father when she came out as a lesbian. The denouement of the novel is "swift, graphic - and redemptive."
5. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
In Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing, biracial teen, Jojo, has a lot of father figures in his life, some more present than others. Pop, his Black grandfather, is the closest. His white father is only just getting out of jail, and his father's father refuses to acknowledge Jojo's existence. There's also Given, his uncle who died as a teenager and still haunts Jojo's dysfunctional family. A toddler sister rounds out Jojo's family.
The novel is filled with the ghosts of the South, some of them literal, a violent legacy still felt in the 21st century in rural Mississippi. Hope and struggle, the past and present, ugliness and love, they fill the aching family as they do their best to get by.
6. Carrie by Stephen King
Thanks to the original 1976 movie and subsequent sequels, almost everyone is at least a little familiar with Stephen King's epistolary novel, Carrie. But if you love horror novels, particularly horror books featuring dysfunctional families, the book that inspired it all isn't to be missed!
I first read it as a teenager and still remember the creepy feelings I got whenever I read scenes between Carrie and her mother. From her fanatical use of religion to torment her daughter into believing she's damned to never telling Carrie about menstruation to physically abusing her and locking her in a closet, her mother terrified me more than Carrie's awful bullies at school. Yikes!
Let's Keep the Conversation Going...
What's the best book you've ever read featuring a dysfunctional family?