GOOD Books: Dysfunctional Families
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Thanksgiving weekend is a wonderful time. If you're like us, you're spending today indulging in gravy-covered leftovers while sitting around in sweatpants. But with the feast comes family—and while we love them to the core, there are times when our relatives and their antics become just too much. While there are debatably illegal ways to survive the family craze, we offer a different option: salvation through comparison. The families in this week's GOOD Books up the dysfunctional family ante 10-fold with pedophilia, pregnancy, telekinetics, and the struggle to grow up while raising an eight-year-old. Find respite from your dysfunction in theses stories. After all, that's what good books are for. To curl up on a lazy post-Thanksgiving afternoon with and get lost in another's narrative.
By Roald Dahl
240 pages. Penguin. $6.99.
Matilda is extraordinary. From a family of buffoons, Matilda emerges as a genius with telekinetic powers. Stuck in a dysfunctional family composed of a shady used-car dealer father, a self-involved mother, and the most terrible of older brothers, Matilda turns the parent-child relationship upside-down. After she realizes her powers, she embarks on a series of amusing endeavors to defend children left defenseless by the greater world—whether that means saving a girl being swung by her pigtails or rooting for a poor boy confronting a giant cake. If there is one lesson for kids to take away from this story, it’s to get a library card in their hands as quickly as possible.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
By Dave Eggers
485 pages. Vintage. $7.89
At the age of 22, Dave Eggers found himself in an unusual situation. Recently orphaned (his parents died five months apart) Eggers became the unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher. But A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius is more than a story about a brotherly bond. Eggers, at 22, is a cocky post-adolescent set on making the most of his life. The book's humor and insight comes from his introspection on the clashing of his two roles, and the inevitable chaos that occurs.
Running with Scissors: A Memoir
By Augusten Burroughs
320 pages. Picador. $5.83.
Augusten Burroughs’ memoir includes some truly unbelievable moments from his own life. Walking the line between witty observer and victim/protagonist/hero, Burroughs tell the story of his childhood and teen years as he bounces between remarkable situations. Moving in with his mother’s psychiatrist’s family when his parents separate, Burroughs has both terrifying and amazing experiences with the Finches. He befriends a pedophile. He dabbles in prescription meds. Burroughs does glamorize his life, but his introspection makes the book both important an compelling.
192 pages. Knopf. $17.13.
Few, if any, can understand Precious’ story on a personal level. Push, which inspired the movie Precious, winding path to redemption for an obese, HIV-positive, abused Harlem teenager. After giving birth to her first child at age 12, Precious becomes pregnant with her second child—both are the product of rape by her father—when she is taken under the wing of a lesbian social worker named Blue Rain. From that point forward, the illiterate Precious begins keeping a journal—as her language skills improve, her life unfolds in poetry. The story shows dysfunction at its most harrowing, and the human spirit at its most resilient.
By David Foster Wallace
1104 pages. Back Bay Books. $10.98.
The Incandenza family excels at everything—tennis, administration, philosophy, football—including dysfunction. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is just the book to tackle if you have your own dysfunctional family waiting at home for you. It’s 1,104 pages of another family’s problems, and in Wallace’s wittier-than-thou diction, you’ll find yourself lost in his wonderfully humorous, terrifying world. It’s not a book to summarize, it’s a book to sit down with and dive into.