Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Friend of the Family - Laura Grodstein

This novel was selected by my Skype book club for October's read.  I vaguely remembered some fairly positive reviews, but I guess I had it in my mind that it was a psychological thriller.  Like "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" kind of thing.  That was definitely not the case, but was intense nevertheless.  It is always fun to find a book is something completely unexpected. 

Synopsis:  At the beginning of the book, we find Peter Dizinoff, once a successful internist, once happily married and father of only son Alec, in complete despair.  He has lost everything...his career, his best friends Iris and Joe, his marriage, and his son.  He reflects back on happier times, and tries to determine where it all went wrong.  And he believes it was the beginning of the end when his son Alec reconnected with Iris and Joe's older and street-wise daughter Laura.

For Peter, his life has been solely built around Alec.  All hopes and dreams have been placed in Alec's hands, and Peter is determined that his son shall be successful, no matter what he must do as a father to make that happen.  First it was the loser friends, then the drugs, then the arrests, then the dropping out of college.  But when Laura (a girl with a past) comes back into town and starts sniffing around Alec, things go very very wrong.

How far will a father go to protect his son?  How much should a parent try to control their child for the greater good?  These questions, as well as issues of friendship and personal responsibility, are addressed in this emotionally-wrought tale of a family in crisis.

My thoughts:   This doesn't happen often, but I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book.  I've given it alot of thought, and there were many aspects that made it a compulsive read, and alot that bothered me.

On the positive side, the plot pulls you in from page one.  How could an upstanding guy like this totally fall apart?  I mean, he has a solid marriage, he loves his son, he has a social life...this is a well-balanced fellow.  The sordid tale unravels slowly, and I was anxious to get the whole story, to dig in and find the answer as quickly as possible. If I were to analyze my reaction from a distance, I'd probably say that I really wanted to reassure myself that, as a parent, I was incapable of having such awful things happen to me.  That I would have more control.

And that is really what the story is all about.  Parental boundaries and the micro-management of your child.  We all know people like this, right?  The ones that do their kid's homework, that dictate every breath a kid takes, manipulating relationships to their liking.  It was maddening to me to watch all of this taking place in the story, with Peter having no earthly clue that his demise is completely his fault, even though his heart is in the right place.  (Time for some more self-examination.)  Realistic?  Yes.  Fun to watch?  No.

I also felt that there were various other plot threads that wandered a little too far off course.  I won't extrapolate too much, but there were all kinds of things going on here that was a bit off the subject, except maybe to better complete a picture of Peter's life.  And it distracted me.       

I definitely think this is a book worth reading for any parent (or anyone who knows a parent) as a cautionary tale, or someone who appreciates that not every discussable book is going to be a fun ride.  I shall be highly anticipating the views of my book club members!

3.5 out of 5 stars 

15 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I skipped this when the meeting was cancelled so I could read books for Club Read. It sounds like it would be a great book to discuss - hopefully we'll get to it next year.

Beth F said...

I think there is tons to discuss. So much about parenthood, trust, and friendship.

Jenny said...

I added this to my shelf back when I saw all the reviews for it. I'm still just as interested and I'm thinking the fact that I'm not a parent (but talk about parenting a lot) will make this a very interesting read for me!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds like a lot to discuss. I would probably not volunteer to read it though if it were not a book club choice, since it sounds painful in addition to your specific criticisms!

Anita said...

I think this sounds good, I know many of "those" parents, and I wonder how their children will grow up.
What is this Skype book club, and how can I jump in? LOL! At 51 I've never been in a book club...how is that? Sad.

Zibilee said...

I remember you telling me a bit about this book, and although it sounds uncomfortable, it also sounds somewhat intriguing in that it's like a train wreck and you can't look away. I have to be honest and say that parents like this really push my buttons. I remember having a friend in school whose parents were like this, and she totally rebelled when she turned 18. Her life is still not really on the right track, and some of the blame is squarely on her parent's shoulders. Now, I know I can be strict at times, but controlling my children to that degree is sort of repugnant to me. This would probably be an interesting read, but one that would make me rather angry. Very candid and thoughtful review today, Sandy. I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

caite said...

think I would have preferred a psychological thriller...

Julie P. said...

Hmmmm. I think I was under the same impression that you were. Interesting.

Trisha said...

Tangents and I have a love-hate relationship. Sometimes the irrelevant material in stories is what makes the tale unique and exciting for me; other times it makes the story frustrating. Sounds like this one was more the latter.

Jenners said...

I think I have this one somewhere!! I totally want to read it now because the mother of one of my son's best friends is a TOTAL micro-manager to the point where I cannot bear to watch it. It is frightening to observe up close, and my husband and I don't really know what, if anything, we can do about it. Nothing I suppose as it isn't actually UNSAFE at this point. It is just really freaky to see a parent who needs that much control over their kids (and husband too).

Literary Feline said...

I will have to add this to my "for later" wish list--when I'm in the mood for something more thought provoking. It does sound interesting. I wonder what kind of parent I will be to my daughter. Hopefully not a micromanager. I catch myself telling her she is my life, my everything--and then I correct myself because they isn't true. Nor should it be. Anyway, thank you for the great review!

Ti said...

Sounds like there would be a lot to discuss, but it doesn't really sound like my kind of book. I DETEST parent who micro-manage their kids.

reviewsbylola said...

I agree with Ti. Parents that micro manage are irritating and even infuriating. I had interest in this one and then forgot about it. I still may read it at some point.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

Interesting review! Most I had read so far were very positive, so it's refreshing to read a different opinion before I finally grab it from my shelf.

farmlanebooks said...

This sounds really interesting. Everyone has different ideas of how to parent a child and I do like seeing how other people do it, but I wonder if I'd find it frustrating to read too. I'm sure you'll have a great discussion on this one!