The best fiction featuring dysfunctional families

The Books I Picked & Why

Little Fires Everywhere

By Celeste Ng

Book cover of Little Fires Everywhere

Why this book?

This story takes place in the orderly, progressive suburban town of Shaker Heights. The lives of two families the “perfect” Richardson family and an enigmatic, artistic mother and her daughter – interweave and are changed forever. The novel explores the layered complexities of power, the conformist’s vs. artist’s life, and motherhood.

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By Tori Bond

Book cover of Familyism

Why this book?

These twenty-two, well-crafted flash fiction stories illuminate a wide array of family situations and humanity by exploring both mundane and extraordinary moments. This collection manages to be funny, quirky, and poignant, while examining the foibles of family life and relationships with a particular focus on the roles of women and girls.

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The Corrections

By Jonathan Franzen

Book cover of The Corrections

Why this book?

I’ve heard people say that Jonathan Franzen is the master of dysfunctional families. In this novel, a troubled family of five gathers for one last Christmas together. There’s a rift between parents and children (now grown), partly because the parents judge the children in ways that are steeped in tradition and a culture of days gone by and partly because the children dismiss or override their aging parents.  I love this book because the characters are deeply flawed, selfish, and absolutely human.

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Where'd You Go, Bernadette

By Maria Semple

Book cover of Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Why this book?

In this wildly imaginative and delightfully funny novel that includes a family trip to Antarctica, the main character, Bernadette Fox, is an unconventional mother to say the least. Her marriage is in trouble and she abandons her daughter. And yet, this family loves one another so deeply, they find ways to face their problems that bring them closer together.

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White Oleander

By Janet Fitch

Book cover of White Oleander

Why this book?

White Oleander tells the story of Ingrid, a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and her daughter, Astrid, who is left to fend for herself in a series of foster homes. The turbulent, difficult mother-daughter relationship in this novel is forever seared into my mind. At its core, this is a novel about finding one's way, no matter what.

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