Becca Reads


Family and Other Accidents

 I fell off the wagon.  I failed the non-fiction challenge.  I went to the library, took out three novels and stayed up till 2 finishing the first one.  At least they were novels from The List (to which eventually I will devote a post, maybe even this morning).

Somebody recommended Family and Other Accidents (if the text on the cover is all lowercase, should I write it like that? it's also in lowercase on the title page, but in caps on Powell's...if it's not e.e. cummings, or been down so long it feels like up to me [which has caps on Amazon, but was in lowercase typescript on the cover of my parents' paperback from the 60s], I'm going with the conventions).  I'm thinking the recommender was A (not California A, the other A).

This is an interesting book that made me think about the nature of the novel.  Actually, I'm not sure it's such an interesting book, but it kept me interested.  It's a relationship novel--about men: two brothers, orphaned when one is 15 and the other 25, and the next 25 years of their life, which includes a bit of career, a lot of ambivalent brotherhood, and some women, and a lot of ambivalence about them too.  What makes the novel worth reading is the ambivalence and complexity of the relationships, and the characterization, which is convincing and captures how we both change and stay the same over long periods of time.

Technically the book interested me because it was so completely focused on Jack and Connor, and, to a lesser extent, Anna, Mona, Kathy, Beth, and Laine.  That is, though the point of view shifts from chapter to chapter, this is a single-focus novel: there are no subplots, no side characters (is that a term or did I make it up?), no history or politics, hardly any description, albeit quite a lot of rain.  The characters are embodied: Jack and Connor are dark, Mona has red hair, Laine and Kathy are blond; Jack rubs his eyebrows when he is stressed; Connor's hair is long and lank; there is quite a lot of throwing up (really, I don't think I've ever read a book with so much throwing up).  Some of this embodiment is compelling--actually, the throwing up, though it is oddly persistent, and thus perhaps meant to be thematically meaningful??--but some--the hair--seems like characteristics hung upon characters.

I think Family and Other Accidents could be made emblematic of the anemic bourgeouis (sp.?) domestic novel, probably in a critique-of-MFA-programs kind of way, but, still, it's a fine portrait of a family and a handful of psyches, and I'm not sure whether that is damning with faint praise.

[Just to compound my reputation as nitpicker: two things were glaringly wrong: ca. 1998, nobody used pins for diapers, and a former AmeriCorps volunteer now getting a master's at the Kennedy School would never read the Herald at home.  Also, the novel is strangely atemporal.  It happens in the present--lots of cell phones--but if Jack, Connor, and Laine talk about dead John and Carolyn Kennedy the first time Jack meets Laine, when Laine is pregnant with Jorie, then the novel must end several years in the future, for Jorie is 16 in the last chapter.  It's just kind of odd.]


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