With the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching, many are preparing grand menus and long shopping lists for a big feast. Others may be prepping themselves for a day spent with their immediate families and distant relatives—in varying degrees of dysfunction, of course. Whether it’s your Trump-supporting Uncle Bob, your fitness-obsessed sister-in-law, or your up-in-your-business grandmother, we all have family members who can make the holidays difficult.
But just in time for Thanksgiving, we’ve compiled a list of 10 recent novels about families that are even more dysfunctional than your own. And if that doesn’t work, we’ve advised the best dish to pair with each book.
Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
Random House; 4/19/2016
“This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray. Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches. Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming… And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.”
Pairs well with: roast turkey
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Little, Brown and Company; 5/3/2016
“When Margaret’s fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings — the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec — struggle along with their mother to care for Michael’s increasingly troubled and precarious existence. Told in alternating points of view by all five members of the family, this searing, gut-wrenching, and yet frequently hilarious novel brings alive with remarkable depth and poignancy the love of a mother for her children, the often inescapable devotion siblings feel toward one another, and the legacy of a father’s pain in the life of a family.”
Pairs well with: sweet potato soufflé
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
HarperCollins; March 22, 2016
“Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs’ joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems. Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives. This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down.”
Pairs well with: caviar & toast
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
“Reina Castillo is the alluring young woman whose beloved brother is serving a death sentence for a crime that shocked the community, throwing a baby off a bridge—a crime for which Reina secretly blames herself. With her brother’s death, though devastated and in mourning, Reina is finally released from her prison vigil. Seeking anonymity, she moves to a sleepy town in the Florida Keys where she meets Nesto Cadena, a recently exiled Cuban awaiting with hope the arrival of the children he left behind in Havana. Through Nesto’s love of the sea and capacity for faith, Reina comes to understand her own connections to the life-giving and destructive forces of the ocean that surrounds her as well as its role in her family’s troubled history, and in their companionship, begins to find freedom from the burden of guilt she carries for her brother’s crime.”
Read our interview with Patrica Engel from July.
Pairs well with: arroz con frijoles
The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 10/4/2016
“‘An outrageously funny tale about a wealthy Chinese-American family that “loses it all, then takes a healing, uproarious road trip across the United States’ (Entertainment Weekly). Their spectacular fall from riches to rags brings the Wangs together in a way money never could. It’s an epic family saga and an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America.”
Pairs well with: red-miso-glazed carrots
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
Little, Brown and Company; 10/4/2016
“About a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, forced to abandon her small ambitions and awake to a strange, new future. Eleanor knows she’s a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won’t swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother’s company. It’s also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office—but not Eleanor—that he’s on vacation. Just when it seems like things can’t go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret.“
Pairs well with: Store-bought pumpkin pie
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
“Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis- Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas. At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman—fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves—must confront long-hidden scars.”
Pairs well with: callaloo
A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl
“Valerie Torrey took her son, Alex, and fled Los Angeles six years ago—leaving both her role on a cult sci-fi TV show and her costar husband after a tragedy blew their small family apart. Now Val must reunite nine-year-old Alex with his estranged father, so they set out on a road trip from New York, Val making appearances at comic book conventions along the way. As they travel west, encountering superheroes, monsters, time travelers, and robots, Val and Alex are drawn into the orbit of the comic-con regulars, from a hapless twentysomething illustrator to a brilliant corporate comics writer struggling with her industry’s old-school ways to a group of cosplay women who provide a chorus of knowing commentary. For Alex, this world is a magical place where fiction becomes reality, but as they get closer to their destination, he begins to realize that the story his mother is telling him about their journey might have a very different ending than he imagined.”
Pairs well with: instant mashed potatoes
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Knopf Doubleday; 8/30/3016
“A Nix can take many forms. In Norwegian folklore, it is a spirit who sometimes appears as a white horse that steals children away. In Nathan Hill’s remarkable first novel, a Nix is anything you love that one day disappears, taking with it a piece of your heart. It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson—college professor, stalled writer—has a Nix of his own: his mother, Faye. He hasn’t seen her in decades, not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy. Now she’s re-appeared, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news, beguiles the internet, and inflames a politically divided country.”
Read our review of The Nix from September.
Pairs well with: kjøttboller meatballs
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families. Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved.”
Read our review of Commonwealth from this fall.
Pairs well with: cranberry-orange relish