Book Review: A Friend of the Family – Lauren Grodstein

Title: A Friend of the Family
Author: Lauren Grodstein
ISBN: 9781616200176
Pages: 320
Release Date: November 9, 2010
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Library
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

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.

Review:

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.

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Comments

  1. This really would have been a good one for us to discuss in our Skype book club. Laura creeped me out, but to me the big discussion points was parental love and control. Pete was coming from a good place, but the bottom line is that many parents cross that line on a daily basis. Doing their kids homework, dictating their life’s path, controlling who their friends are. A great book, but not a comfortable one!

  2. This really would have been a good one for us to discuss in our Skype book club. Laura creeped me out, but to me the big discussion points was parental love and control. Pete was coming from a good place, but the bottom line is that many parents cross that line on a daily basis. Doing their kids homework, dictating their life’s path, controlling who their friends are. A great book, but not a comfortable one!

  3. Reminds me of how difficult it is to influence teens more than they are influenced by their peers. Sounds like a good thought provoking book.

  4. Reminds me of how difficult it is to influence teens more than they are influenced by their peers. Sounds like a good thought provoking book.

  5. This one has been on my radar, so I am glad to hear that you liked it.

  6. This one has been on my radar, so I am glad to hear that you liked it.

  7. I am interested in this one because of it’s realistic portrayal of what it means to be a controlling parent, and how that affects the whole family. It’s almost uncomfortable for me to speculate on, because I am pretty strict with my kids, but would never want to control them. I think this would make for a really interesting and thought provoking read for me, for lots of different reasons. Very perceptive and intriguing review. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  8. I am interested in this one because of it’s realistic portrayal of what it means to be a controlling parent, and how that affects the whole family. It’s almost uncomfortable for me to speculate on, because I am pretty strict with my kids, but would never want to control them. I think this would make for a really interesting and thought provoking read for me, for lots of different reasons. Very perceptive and intriguing review. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  9. I read a couple of pages of this, and found it interesting, but had to set it aside for something more pressing when our meeting was cancelled.

  10. I read a couple of pages of this, and found it interesting, but had to set it aside for something more pressing when our meeting was cancelled.

  11. This sounds fascinating – I enjoy books that explore parenting issues. I’m adding this one to my TBR list!

  12. This sounds fascinating – I enjoy books that explore parenting issues. I’m adding this one to my TBR list!

  13. I thought this was a great book club choice. So many issues to discuss: trust, friendship, parenthood … Nice review.

  14. I thought this was a great book club choice. So many issues to discuss: trust, friendship, parenthood … Nice review.

  15. That cover is so attention-grabbing, and this sounds like a really compelling story! I love books that keep you guessing about others’ motives and sometimes turn everything on its head.

  16. That cover is so attention-grabbing, and this sounds like a really compelling story! I love books that keep you guessing about others’ motives and sometimes turn everything on its head.

  17. This is on my TBR list for 2012. I’ve heard nothing but good things.

  18. This is on my TBR list for 2012. I’ve heard nothing but good things.

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