Looking to escape old sibling rivalries, political spats, and unwavering grudges? Spend some quality time with someone else’s dysfunctional family.
By Jessica Dukes
Family secrets, simmering grudges, fragile egos…the holidays can be quite an emotional time, despite the jolly distractions of food, drinks, and shopping. If you’re looking to put your family drama into perspective and even have a few laughs, check out these novels—you may even come to realize your relatives are pretty great after all.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Just one more Christmas like they used to have, when her family was young and healthy. This is all Enid Lambert wants after 50 years of dutiful marriage. Unfortunately, like time, families must move forward and the lucky ones are able to course-correct when life goes off the rails. But what if things can’t be fixed?
The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan
As LuLing ages and her memory fades, she shares a lifetime of secrets with her daughter, Ruth. The road from LuLing’s courageous and rebellious past to Ruth’s fabulous life in San Francisco is revealed, thankfully while Ruth has the chance to show her appreciation. Like many of Amy Tan’s novels, this story is an excellent reminder to never, ever, underestimate your hardworking mother.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
You know how family responsibilities can become so overwhelming that you wonder what would happen if you just…took off? Have you ever asked, “What would they do without me?” Well, Bernadette Fox had this meltdown so that we don’t have to. Following her daughter, Bee’s, search for her wayward mother is exactly the odd, escapist novel you need for the holidays.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
This is Eggers’ memoir, the true story of becoming a caretaker to his eight-year-old brother after they lose both parents to cancer in a few short weeks. Amid this tragedy, Eggers somehow makes the choice to embrace life, and finds beauty, laughter, and hope—a reminder to be thankful for family and the bigger picture.
The Position by Meg Wolitzer
You’ll never complain about your parents again when you read the story of Paul and Roz Mellow, authors of a 1970s, best-selling sex manual and parents to four mortified children. Fast forward 30 years to when a plan to release an anniversary edition opens old wounds for everyone—except Paul and Roz who think it’s, like, totally groovy that the world still wants to learn their secret sex position.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Everyone wants a safe, cozy home for the holidays, but what would you do if the celebrated house around you—and the family within—was falling apart? Willa Knox searches for a way to save every broken pipe (and heart) by turning to history. The previous owners of the house know its secrets and survived the madness of their own century—all Willa has to do is follow their lead.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Spanning generations, the Trueba family survives treacherous decades of Chile’s history. Although political fights around the dinner table are common, the arguments for this family end in death or prison. Know what helps everyone though? A few hundred pages of magical realism.
Home by Marilynne Robinson
It’s not easy to return to your childhood home, especially if you’re the troublemaker who has been away for twenty years like Jack Boughton. He brings with him a drinking problem, a long-running power struggle with his father, and a new concern for his sister who is trying to rebuild a life in their small Presbyterian town. Faced with the pain of the past, is it possible for this family to find redemption?
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
You may think that the story of a father and son struggling to survive in a violent, hopeless, apocalyptic wasteland would be a real downer—and you’d be right—but it’s also a love story. In fact, the love and sacrifice in this novel are so eye-opening, so heartwarming, that you’ll soon forgive whatever family squabbles are headed your way.