A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
Published by: Algonquin Books
Published on: November 2009
Page Count: 304
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Reading Format: eBook purchased for my Kindle
Available Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
Pete Dizinoff is a man who needs to be in control is eclipsed perhaps only by his need to look like he’s in control. He has the right job and the right wife. A wife who looks to him for greater social and political understanding. He has a son he adores. He has set up his life in such a way that he believes that his family is above what happened to his best friend Joe Stern’s family. Joe’s oldest daughter Laura gave birth to a baby in a library bathroom, killed it, and threw it in a dumpster. Any small comfort Pete showed his friend at the time was tainted by his heart, which was full of self-righteous indignation. What Pete sowed in judgement, he later reaped as this story begins. Laura’s been away from their small suburban town for many years. She was sentenced to time in a mental hospital following her trial and has led a bohemian life afterwards. When Laura reappears in town and starts a relationship with Pete’s son Alec, Pete’s grip on his family begins to slip. Alec is 10 years younger than Laura and he must protect his son from her.
A Friend of the Family is told from Pete’s perspective both in the present as well as from different times in the past. From the beginning we know that something is going to happen. Looking back on his character, I am not surprised at how he strings the reader along, giving up bits of information as he goes along. He is controlling the setup and the delivery. He made me impatient at times, but when he finally admits to how his obsession with his son’s love life impacted both his professional as well as personal life, he made a huge impact. In fact, his story, parsed out in moments here and opinions there was essential. Had he simply spelled it out at the beginning, so much would have been missed. He may like to play the puppet master, but he is above all else honest about himself even when he cannot be honest to others.
There is so much going on in A Friend of the Family that I cannot begin to do more than scratch the surface. Pete is an interesting character. He walks a fine line between between being a well meaning man who cares for his family and the life they have together and an unsympathetic control freak. I found his story, his family, his friends, and his community fascinating. While I often wish that I’d read a book earlier, I’m glad that I chose to read it just before Algonquin Books’ Book Club event with the author and Steven King because it was fresh in my memory. Just watching them discuss the book online made me dream of retiring to a commune where people read and discuss great books. I most definitely recommend A Friend of the Family.