Title: A Friend of the Family
Author: Lauren Grodstein
Release Date: November 9, 2010
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
After Pete’s best friend lost his daughter Laura emotionally – the girl was accused of murdering her newborn child as a teenager – he became all the more determined to protect his son, Alec. But years later, Alec hasn’t turned out the way Pete hoped. After dropping out of college, Alec is back at home with his parents, and Pete doesn’t know how to motivate him to return to school. When Laura moves back to town and seems intent on worming her way into Alec’s life – who is some ten years younger than her – Pete feels he must step in before Alec falls off his path forever.
A Friend of the Family is a provocative novel that brings up serious questions for the reader. How much control does a parent have over the life choices of their child? And are choices really “right” and “wrong”? Is it true that college just isn’t the right choice for some people – is Alec wrong in wanting to forge his own path? These are very interesting questions about the future. Pete firmly believes that Alec is ruining his life when he drops out of college, but at what point does Pete’s opinion as a parent cease to matter? When should Pete step back and allow Alec to live his own life, to make his own mistakes?
Pete is a very complex character. On one hand, he is doing what he believes is right, trying to encourage his son to make positive life choices. It’s easy to sympathize with him because he’s the narrator of the book and the reader really gets into his head. But Pete makes some questionable choices and drives himself crazy trying to control Alec’s life, and the reader has to consider Alec’s point of view. It’s hard to blame him for hating his dad, even if Pete might be right about certain points.
This book also deals with the difficult issue of infanticide, when Laura supposedly murders her newborn baby. From the beginning, it isn’t clear what actually happened. All the reader knows is what Pete’s been told, and it’s clear that he thinks she is a monster. Therefore, when Laura begins seeking out Alec, it’s enough to push Pete over the edge, that a murderer is preying on his son and influencing his decisions.
As this review probably makes clear, there are many different issues within A Friend of the Family, such that it would make an excellent book club pick. Grodstein writes with clear prose, and the book is easy to read and progresses quickly, despite its sometimes difficult subject matter. This is a striking portrayal of one family quickly descending into dysfunction, and Grodstein ratchets up the suspense as she takes the reader through this tautly woven tale.