I think by this point it’s probably pretty safe to assume that unless otherwise specified, my Saturday Book Club posts are recycled from my LiveJournal. I’m learning to be okay with my somewhat lazy blogging, though. After all, it’s not as though anyone who might stumble across this blog has read my friends only journal … Unless it’s someone I know in real life (who also had a LiveJournal), of course.
If you haven’t read any of my previous Saturday Book Club posts, I’ll review my rating system. I have rated all of the books I’ve previously reviewed (and will be rating any books I review in the future) based on the Netflix rating system. For those unfamiliar with this system:
One star = Hated it
Two stars = Didn’t like it
Three stars = Liked it
Four stars = Really liked it
Five stars = Loved it
This week I’m going to focus on one of my absolute favorite books of 2012. I picked it up on a whim, and immediately after finishing it I was compelled to write up a review … It was that good.
Image courtesy of presentinglenore.blogspot.com.
A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
This was a book I found randomly on Amazon by clicking through the “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed” section. I actually find quite a few books that way, and generally haven’t been disappointed with their recommendations.
To be quite honest, I didn’t really know what to expect with this book. It’s summarized as a tale of the fall of a man, Dr. Pete Dizinoff. He has the sort of life most people only dream of: a successful, thriving medical practice; a large, beautiful home in the suburbs of New Jersey; a network of close friends; a loving, devoted wife; and a son whom he loves more than anything. Unfortunately, a series of events causes his life to unravel, bit by bit, and it’s all he can do to hold on to everything he holds dear.
At the center of the novel’s plot is the infatuation his beloved son, Alec, has for his best friend’s oldest daughter, Laura. It’s not just that Laura is 10 years older than his son that causes Pete alarm (though that is certainly a consideration) … It’s her horribly shocking past. Despite the fact that her parents (both of whom Pete would consider to be his closest friends) seem to have gotten past what happened years ago, Pete cannot and he refuses to allow her to fuck up his son’s future.
Grodstein effortlessly captures a male perspective in this novel … I was very impressed! I know that I’m not a man, so I may not truly know whether or not an author captures this voice … But as I was reading, I wasn’t thinking, “Man, you can really tell a woman wrote this.” Pete Dizinoff is a flawed character, but he’s flawed in realistic ways. He doesn’t always say the right thing; he secretly harbors feelings for his best friend’s wife, Iris (Laura’s mother); he often tries too hard with his son; etc. It’s not some woman’s fantasy of what a man should or would do or say in a given scenario … It’s just this person, telling his story. You truly get lost in the narrative, and it’s refreshing.
A Friend of the Family is written in first person, with Pete jumping between the present and the past. I know some people (my mom included) really hate books that jump around in time, but I tend to really enjoy books written this way. If it’s well done (as this one was), it paints a more vivid, complete picture of a character. It gets readers more involved in the character’s life, makes them care more about what happens to him/her. As a (wannabe) writer, it can also be inspiring. And this novel was certainly no exception. As I got deeper into the story, I kept thinking, “I really need to write in this style, at least once. It makes the book difficult to put down because you become so invested!”
Lauren Grodstein not only penned an interesting story, she also wrote it beautifully. There were a few times when I thought, “Eh, I might’ve used a different word there,” because she used the same word twice within a couple of sentences or so to describe something … But really, that was my only complaint. (And kind of a ridiculous complaint at that. I mean, I’ve definitely done that in my own writing plenty of times.)
The plot moved along at a nice pace and, as I’ve already mentioned, she did an excellent job making readers care about the characters (particularly Pete). Although Pete was, as I said, a flawed character, as a reader I cared about him … And really, no one in real life is perfect, so why should a character in a novel be perfect? Especially if the novel is supposed to be realistic, as this one was.
I would recommend A Friend of the Family to others without a doubt. I will also be rereading this in the future. It was strong from start to finish (I almost cried at the end) … Excellent writing!
Without hesitation, I give this novel FIVE STARS.