Don't get us wrong: We love our family, and we're sure you love yours, too. It's just that sometimes it's easier to love them via Skype. (Kidding … kind of.)
From late November all the way through December, it’s the season of unbridled family stress. But when the diningroom political debates, intrusive love life questions and endless “When I was your age …” tales become too much, take a moment to excuse yourself and read a chapter from one of these books. These 10 families will make you grateful for your own — and really, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?
1. The Ice Storm by Rick Moody
This novel focuses on two families, the Hoods and the Williamses, after a freak snowstorm bears down on their Connecticut town during Thanksgiving weekend. Against the supposedly sparkling clean backdrop of suburbia, Moody explores adultery, drugs and teenage sex — admittedly old themes, but ones that he breathes new life into.
With lines like, "Wendy's ambition was to be as unlike her mother as possible in every way," The Ice Storm is far from being a feel-good novel. It is, however, comforting to know that even your darkest thoughts about your family have been thought by others, and in no way do they disqualify you from loving your family.
2. Music for Torching by A. M. Homes
When you finish Music for Torching, you will be grateful that Elaine and Paul are not your parents. In an effort to quell their boredom and frustration, the two partially burn down their suburban home. Then, while their two boys move in with a family they hardly know, Elaine and Paul bunk up with Pat and George, a seemingly perfect couple. What erupts is a disquieting and distressing tale that will leave you seeing your own family in a brighter light.
3. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
There’s a strong chance you already have an opinion about Freedom, even if you haven't read it. Maybe you remember the Oprah Book Club debacle or you’ve heard it's too political or you just can't bring yourself to read a novel by someone who hates cats.
Try to turn all of that off because Freedom really does paint a vivid portrait of the American family. It follows the Berglunds through the last decades of the 20th century, and the family secrets that unfurl throughout will put the skeletons in your family's closet to shame.
4. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
So your mom just told your entire extended family the hilarious story of the time you lost your virginity, but at least she didn't disappear in the middle of the night. That’s exactly what Bernadette Fox, mother and best friend of 15-year-old Bee, does in Where'd You Go, Bernadette.
Former Arrested Development writer Maria Semple has created a hilarious and touching novel about the relationship between mother and daughter. Read it if you need a funny distraction from family drama and all of the televisions are tuned into the game.
5. All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland
The title alone is enough to provide solace.
All Families are Psychotic follows the Drummonds, who are reuniting for the first time in years to watch their beloved daughter and sister Sarah launch into space. The Drummonds are eccentric enough to inspire a bizarre storyline, but Coupland ups the weird by setting them in South Florida, so deaths at Disney World, fights at Cape Canaveral and plenty of other Florida misadventures add to the compelling narrative.
All Families are Psychotic focuses on maternal relationships, so definitely pick it up if you’re finding your mom particularly difficult this holiday season — not that that would ever happen, of course!
6. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Swamplandia! opens with the death of 12-year-old Ava Bigtree's alligator-wrestling mother, an event that rattles the Bigtree family to the core — and not just in ways you might expect. Ava's older brother leaves the Bigtree's island home and gator-wrestling theme park of Swamplandia to work at a competing theme park, her sister begins an affair with a ghost named the Dredgeman and Ava’s father, Chief Bigtree, goes AWOL.
The story of the Bigrees is equal parts tragic and whimsical. You might think you could never relate to a family who owns a gator-wrestling theme park in the swamps of South Florida, but you’d be dead wrong.
7. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Geek Love will give you so much to be thankful: Your parents aren't carnies, so five points for them, and they didn't purposely mutate you in a desperate attempt to draw patrons to their failing sideshow. Really, you have nothing to complain about.
Arty, Elly, Iphy, Oly and Chick, the five Binewski children, did not share your lucky fate. So next time you're feeling ungrateful, just remember that your parents could have used various drugs and radioactive material to alter your genes, but they chose not to because they love you just the way you are.
8. August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
Beverly Weston is a famous poet living in Osage County, Oklahoma with his wife, Violet. Early on in Letts’s play, Beverly suddenly disappears, driving his children to return to their hometown in search of him. What unfurls is a tragic and touching account of how difficult it can be to come home, and how hard — if not impossible — it can be to understand the people who raised you. Read it now before the film version starring Meryl Streep comes out this Christmas.
9. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Here we have the original dysfunctional family of English literature. Sure, it's a D-move to snatch the last piece of pumpkin pie, but it pales in comparison to murdering your brother and marrying his widow.
Oh, and you probably still have your copy of Hamlet from high school somewhere in your parents’ house, so you won’t even need to make a run to the local Barnes and Noble.
Bonus points: We’re willing to bet that it has some pretty hilarious annotations from teenage you.
10. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Feeling cloistered while visiting your hometown? Pick up The Virgin Suicides, where the five beautiful Lisbon sisters are trapped by their overprotective parents. The story of Cecilia, Lux, Mary, Bonnie and Therese is tragic, but perfectly captures what it feels like to be trapped in your own home.
Have your own suggestions of comfort reading while you’re trapped in your childhood home? Let us know in the comments below!
Michelle King grew up in South Florida and now lives in Brooklyn. Her contributions have appeared on BULLETT, Refinery29, xoJane and The Huffington Post. Harriet M. Welsch is still her role model and probably always will be.
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