Greg's Reviews > A Friend of the Family

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
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Jan 21, 12

bookshelves: best-of-the-best
Read from January 16 to 21, 2012

As I was reading this powerful and unbelievably good novel--the story of a successful suburban father, husband, and doctor whose life begins to unravel in a seriously gripping way--I recalled the way I felt as I read the best passages of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. My heart actually beat a little faster, as if I were witnessing the almost hyperreal, perfectly-dialogued scenes being played out right in front of me. In 300 very quickly moving pages, Grodstein manages to capture not just a sweeping American portrait of suburban family life and the baby boomers’ dreams of it, but the tragedy of how unwavering fatherly pride--and a fundamental belief in how things ideally ought to be so as to preserve happiness--lead to a tragic disconnect between generations.

The main plot: Laura Stern, 30 year-old daughter of narrator Pete Dizinoff’s best friend Joe--comes back to Round Hill, New Jersey over a decade after committing a horrible act of violence. She then reconnects with Pete and Elaine’s adrift 20 year-old son Alec, who’s dropped out of Hampshire to come home, cultivate his artwork and reluctantly think about his next move. It’s the spark between them that turns Pete into an increasingly unsettled and unreliable narrator: a man who truly loves his son and cares so much about his future that he becomes virtually blind to the fact that Laura may not actually be an evil person, and isn't out to deliberately poison his son’s future. Like any concerned parent who wants to bestow the same quality of life on his child that he had, Pete also wants what’s best for Alec--but of course we know that Pete’s only projecting onto Alec what he thinks is best for him.

And therein lies the paradox of parenting. At one point, in a climactic encounter, Laura Stern tells Pete that “there is no one right way to live a life.” No matter her horrible past and the complexity of her motives towards Alec, and no matter how much we simultaneously sympathize and pity the place Pete has found himself: Laura's words could not be truer.
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