Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review: "A Friend of the Family" by Lauren Grodstein

I first heard of Lauren Grodstein's A Friend of the Family when Amazon selected it as one of the best books of November. Since I'm a big fan of books about family dysfunction (quiet, you), I was quite eager to read it. And I'm pleased to say that once again, Amazon didn't steer me wrong. I thought this book was terrifically compelling and well-written, and devoured it really, really quickly.

Dr. Pete Dizinoff is an internist living a fairly idyllic life in suburban New Jersey. He and his wife, Elaine, who met in college, have a close relationship with college friends and their families are bound together quite closely. If there's any blip on the screen of their lives, it's their son Alec, who in his teenage years and early 20s struggled with a number of issues, including a firm direction for his future. But Pete is determined that Alec will succeed.

And then Laura Stern, eldest daughter of the Dizinoffs' best friends, reappears, after being gone from New Jersey for a significant period of time following troubles of her own. Laura takes an interest in Alec, who is about 10 years her junior, and this interest troubles Pete a great deal. Pete becomes obsessed with trying to get Alec back on the path he wants Alec to follow, at any cost.

I found this story intriguing because I'd imagine many parents might feel—and act—the same way Pete did when faced with this same situation. And although many of Pete's actions made his character a little less sympathetic, when taken together with the history Grodstein provided for his character, it all seemed very natural. The ripples that a few stones like these can make in so many lives really fascinated me. I'd definitely recommend this book, and I'll check out Grodstein's earlier fiction as well. It will be interesting to see if this one gets made into a movie...

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