happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”

*bonus points if you can correctly identify this quotation! And I know some of you out there have actually read the book, so I’m fully expecting at least one comment.

One of the books I read this month was Douglas Coupland’s All Families Are Psychotic. Funny story: I was reading it on my way to a college class, this one about philosophy and literature. Once the class started, we were all asked what the last book was that we had read. Apparently, philosophy students only read bulky Russian novels that can be analyzed for the philosophic content. Another conclusion that could be drawn is that philosophy students are too pretentious to admit that sometimes they read regular novels (or, gasp, spy novels/chick lit/some other form of genre fiction). I felt so out of place with my “light reading”.

Anyway, moving on. Here’s the (lengthy) publisher’s summary:

In the opening pages, 65-year-old Janet Drummond checks the clock in her cheap motel room near Cape Canaveral, takes her prescription pills and does a rapid tally of the whereabouts of her three children: Wade, the eldest, in and out of jail and still radiating ”the glint”; suicidal Bryan, whose girlfriend, the vowel-free Shw, is pregnant; and Sarah, the family’s shining light, an astronaut preparing to be launched into space as the star of a shuttle mission. They will all arrive in Orlando today – along with Janet’s ex-husband Ted and his new trophy wife – setting the stage for the most disastrous family reunion in the history of fiction. Florida may never recover from their version of fun in the sun.

The last time the family got together, there was gunplay and an ensuing series of HIV infections. Now, what should be a celebration turns instead into a series of mishaps and complications that place the family members in constant peril. When the reformed Wade attempts to help his dad out of a financial jam and pay off his own bills at the fertility clinic, his plan spins quickly out of control. Adultery, hostage-taking, a letter purloined from Princess Diana’s coffin, heart attacks at Disney World, bankruptcy, addiction and black-market negotiations – Coupland piles on one deft, comic plot twist after another, leaving you reaching for your seat belt. When the crash comes, it is surprisingly sweet.

Janet contemplates her family, and where it all went wrong. “People are pretty forgiving when it comes to other people’s family. The only family that ever horrifies you is your own.” During the writing, Coupland described the book as being about “the horrible things that families do to each other and how it makes them strong.” He commented: “Families who are really good to each other, I’ve noticed, tend to dissipate, so I wonder how awful a family would have to be to stick together.”

My thoughts? I thought it was a cross between Jonathan Franzen and Carl Hiassen. The most weird and unexpected things happen (that’s Hiassen), and Coupland, like Franzen, is exceptionally good at describing the at times awful dynamics that occur in any family. Coupland uses a lot of flashbacks, and he’s good at it. We learn a lot about the family as the book progresses, and I became quite invested in them along the way.

I’d give it a 7/10 and recommend it to anyone that’s read the above mentioned authors. A warning, though: it’s not for the fainthearted.


4 thoughts on “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”

  1. Elske Tielens says:

    anna karenina of course.
    and happy that a post with that title a few days before your birthday has such a pleasant content;).
    I guess you should lend me that book…

  2. Sondra says:

    This is the beginning one of my favorite poems; I first read it in a collection of poetry by different authors. I’ve been searching for it online, but I can’t find it! Only the lines you quoted above. If you know the title or where I can find it, please let me know 🙂 Thanks!

    • Saskia says:

      Hi Sondra, I only know of the lines because they’re the opening lines of Anne Karenina, by Tolstoj. I don’t know of any poems..sorry I can’t help you!

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