Friday Fiction: Family Time by Alex Snider

I'm one of those really, really lucky people who really, really likes her family (in addition to being head over heels in love with them); I consider them to be my friends regardless of blood-ties (true story: My mum has kept this tear stained note that I wrote to her begging her forgiveness, "I feel sick to my stomach...I can't believe I've let you down like this...I hope one day you'll forgive're my best-friend", and on the back she had written the date and the crime: 1998 -- I was 15 -- and I had stayed up until one in the morning talking on the phone. I've got issues. The point stands though, my mum was my BFF even when I was 15). 

I already drive my rootmate kinda bananas with my incessant Skyping sessions with with my grandma and I brag about how fucking amazing my brother and sister are to anyone who will even look like they're listening. My dad is really funny and has taught me everything I know about debating; my cousins are super kick-ass and fun to hang out with; my aunt and uncle are integral parts of my circle of friends; being apart from my mum makes my heart hurt. It's been almost a year since I saw my parents and my sister and, oh my god, I miss them so much (my brother, too, but I saw him more recently) so in honour of family here is a list of my favourite novels about families (I haven't gone completely soft, a lot of them are still dysfunctional/grim but you know, still, families: Awww...):

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner -- Oh Faulkner, so amazing, right? Sometimes hard to understand, too right? No, just me? No, yes? Haha, just kidding! I can't hear what you're saying! In fact you might not be saying anything at all in which case, I can't read your mind, concentrate harder! I really love novels set in the south (I don't know if it's because they're often written in dialect or I can feel the heat through the magic of imagination or because I really wish I was drinking a mint julep and sitting on a really big veranda at all times) so of course Faulkner is up my alley (heh) plus he was kinda a genius with words and usin' 'em to spin out characters so raw and fully realized that it only takes one sentence to break this grown woman's heart.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf -- Am I a bad reader if this is the only Woolf I've read? Am I a bad feminist if this is the only Woolf I've read? Does it help that I really liked it? I'm sorry? Is there anything...? I kinda want to name my future second dog Virginia Woof. And, if I ever have a son and the mood so strikes I may name him Jasper for one of the sons from To the Lighthouse. I would like to go to a lighthouse.

Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner -- He can do no wrong. I really don't know how much more I can stress how incredible his work. I don't know why I'm so irritated about having to rave about one of my favourite authors. I'm really tired? Sorry that you had to read that, folks; sometimes things over at the sugar shack (yep. It was Rebekah's idea) can get ugly... For fucks sakes, just read him, ok? Then I can stop pestering you about it and we can start having lively discussions about how amazing he is. I bet you're really looking forward to it.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison -- Oh baby, yes. So... (ok, all the words I'm going to use to describe this novel are going to sound really inappropriate given the whole child-abuse plot line but I'm referring to the vibe of the novel not the events! It's set in the south -- South Carolina to be exact) sticky? Visceral? Hot? Ew, that's enough. It's the kind of book you will not be able to put down, like might have to take drastic sawing measures to your wrists kind of book. Allison just nails the rage, the desperation, the love, the helplessness, the loyalties and the strength that a poverty-stricken family caught in a cycle of abuse and violence experiences.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy -- Uh, duh, this is on the list: "All happy families are alike something something something Tolstoy hates women something something something". The best part of reading Tolstoy is that you can fully reject the conclusion he tries to lead you to while still enjoying the book. Now that, my friends, is true mad-genius.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson -- Shirley Jackson's short-stories are ah-maze-hing dah-lings (that was weird), The Lottery still gives me goosebumps in a way that M. Night Shyamalan never could (it was like all his movies were good and creepy until the reveal and then he lost it, like John Ralphio stopping the rap one syllable after the rhyme). Anyway, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is more sinister in an adorable way  ("Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?/Oh no, said Merricat, you'll poisson me!") than a "townspeople, let us unite and stone her to death like it's totes normal" kind of way which, if that's your thing, is perfect for you.

Disquiet by Julia Leigh -- What would a family reunion be without a dead baby in the freezer, amirite?! No, that's just me? Funny, isn't it, how one person's traditions are another's nightmares. I've mos def (love you, D'Angelo) talked about Disquiet here before but I really can't stress how ghoulishly good it is. It's like the little book that could...make you feel kinda sick. Great, now I want goulash.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck -- I didn't actually read any Steinbeck until two years ago and boy, did I ever feel like a dick-bag for putting it off for so long (literally, I felt like a bag of dicks) -- the man is a fucking supernova (haha, I just out-douched myself, not literally, that would be too personal for the blog). I was completely blown away by his prose. Everything was so lush and the characters were so believable and so relatable; I know that I'm not a dirt-poor Oklahoma sharecropper searching for work on California's fruit farms in the '30s but damn if I didn't get how the Joads felt every step of the way. Gah, so life-changing! And, I hate to use hyperbolic statements! East of Eden is a pretty decent read, too.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz -- Can I just say that I am very excited about this list? Ok, moving on. Another amazing read! I wish I could read it again for the first time, and again, and again, and again... The characters, egad, the characters! I don't think I've ever been so happy to hear of a book winning an award as when Diaz won the Pulitzer for Oscar Wao. He spent ten years on it, struggling with writer's block, trying to follow up his phenomenal short story collection, Drown, and it's really awesome to see a deserving novel and author win an award for once (no offense everyone else).

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott -- There you go: A fucking happy lil' family tale. Beth dies.


Photo: My mum and the sibs. Did I consider photoshopping myself in? Yes. Do I have access to photoshop? No.

Alex Snider is a Toronto-based writer, a Contributing Editor for the Little Red Umbrella and the co-creator of the Once Again, To Zelda blog, which is where a version of this post originally appeared. You can read the rest of her posts here. She misses her family.


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