Family: Books about Kith and Kin

We all have them. Sometimes we praise them, sometimes we rail against a relative or two, but families have made us what we are, who we've become. These novels and nonfiction books explore domestic life in all its joys, sorrows, perplexities, and anger. For what would our lives be like without this network of people so like and unlike us, who share our memories?

“In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past, a bridge to our future.”  --Alex Haley


Compiled by:
Doris Lynch
A Death in the Family

James Agee
Agee

On a hot night in Knoxville, Jay Follet leaves home to check on his dad at the bequest of his alcoholic brother. Of course, things are much better than his brother said—his father is not dying. On his way back home, Jay dies in a traffic accident.  This novel tells how his widow, brother, and young son deal with the tragedy his sudden, unexpected death.


Bee Season

Myla Goldberg
Goldber

When second child, Eliza, starts to win school spelling bees, her father suddenly notices her and begins coaching her in his study, which before had only been open to her brother, Aaron. This changes the entire family dynamics and soon her mother and older brother start out on separate new paths. Her mother's path causes a family crises, and Eliza feels that she must take charge and reorder the chaos.


Commonwealth

Ann Patchett
Patchet

A chance encounter at a family christening results in a kiss, and the eventual dissolution of two marriages. This novel follows the relatives involved over five decades--four adults and six children. It explores divorce from the children's points of view, and how families form and reform yet remain interconnected despite time and distance.


Empire Falls

Richard Russo
Russo

Miles Roby complains about life in the decaying, blue-collar town of Empire Falls, Maine, where he has spent his life. Yet he doesn't leave. Why not? It can't be his job slinging burgers at the local grill. Could he be waiting for his daughter, Tish, to graduate from high school? Or is he just keeping tabs on his ex-wife who is seriously dating again? This novel explores the ties that bind us, both of family and place.


Nutshell

Ian McEwan
McEwan

This classic tale of murder and mayhem is seen through the lens of family, but in this case, the narrator is the unborn child of two parents. His mother, Trudy, is having an affair with his Uncle Claude, whose brother has left the family townhouse in London. As the couple plot what to do with his father, Nutshell hears all.


The Gathering

Anne Enright
Enright

Recently, Veronica Hegarty lost her brother, Liam, to suicide. His death and the reaction of her large, extended Irish family forces her to confront her own relationships in the family, particularly that with her father.  It also causes her to look back at three generations for clues of what happened to her brother and for a way to make a better, more psychologically healthy life for herself.


The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls
921 Walls Wal

This memoir describes Jeannette’s childhood in a nomadic, dysfunctional family who wandered through the Southwest, and eventually came home to West Virginia where they could rely on the help of her parent’s families.  Both of Jeannette’s parents were brilliant, and her mother was artistic, but they did not have a clue about raising children or even providing them with food and guidance.  Jeannette describes how she and her siblings helped each other reach adulthood and learn to live in this world.


The Light of the World: a Memoir

Elizabeth Alexander
800.82 Alexander Ale

This moving memoir tells the story of a family in crisis. A few days after his fiftieth birthday party, chef Ficre Ghebreyesus died on a treadmill in the home he shared with his wife, a poet, and their two young sons.  This book shares Elizabeth’s memories of Ficre, their co-parenting, and the life they forged together centered on love, family and delicious food.


The Past

Tessa Hadley
Hadley

Four siblings and their families meet at the old family home by the English seaside for an extended vacation. It will probably be the last time they gather there because they plan to sell the lovely old house. Roland, the only male child--now a critic and famous intellectual--brings his new wife, an Argentinian lawyer who has secrets from her past. Alice brings an ex-boyfriend's son who falls in love with Roland's teenage daughter. Other flirtations happen here, as well as a slow unveiling of contemporary passions and memories from long ago. A vivid novel about sibling ties.


The Six: the Lives of the Mitford Sisters

Laura Thompson
920 Mitford Tho

This group of wealthy, upper-class British sisters prove that nurture does not dominate our life choices. Two became extremely conservative—one befriended Hitler, for example, while the other married a Fascist during World War II.  Jessica became a communist.  Another, Nancy, became a famous author. Discover this fascinating family and learn what made them all—despite political differences--charming and confident.