Saturday, March 30, 2013

'A Friend of the Family' by Lauren Grodstein

Official Summary:

Pete Dizinoff, a skilled and successful New Jersey internist, has a loving and devoted wife, a network of close friends, an impressive house, and, most of all, a son, Alec, now nineteen, on whom he has pinned all his hopes. But Pete hadn’t expected his best friend’s troubled daughter to set her sights on his boy. When Alec falls under her spell, Pete sets out to derail the romance, never foreseeing the devastating consequences. In a riveting story of suburban tragedy, Lauren Grodstein charts a father’s fall from grace as he struggles to save his family, his reputation, and himself.


In the first few pages of A Friend of the Family a few interesting things are revealed about Dr. Pete Dizinoff. For starters, he's an upper middle aged man whose been cast out by his wife and son to live in the room above the garage. He's scared to pick up the phone to talk to his best friend. And then as if all that isn't bad enough, some crazy guy is accusing him of terrible things and throwing bottles at him at the waterfront.

Whoa, right? Heavy even. I found myself needing to find out what kind of  terrible things did this guy do. What heinous things would a person need to do to lose a best friend, a job and the love of your family in one fell swoop?

But then you know what happened? Those questions weren't  addressed in any sort of meaningful way for what felt like hundreds of pages. The story doesn't even come back around to the crazy guy throwing bottles until the last fifty or so pages and by then I didn't care. I'd spent so long reading about all the baby-killer crap* that by the time anything remotely concentrated on the really interesting plot points started it was too late.

What is amazing here, and why I think this book won all sorts of critics praises, is Lauren Grodstein has an uncanny ability to create vivid, believably flawed people. What's even more praise worthy is that if the internet is to be believed, she was a 31 year old single woman when this book about a late middle-aged family man was written and when I tell you that I needed to recheck that this was a female author about a quarter of the way through I'm not kidding - the voice is just that convincing.

The Bottom Line: The writing is stellar, the characters feel like they could step out of the page at any second, and the first few chapters compelled me to keep reading. Unfortunately, it's my humble opinion that the entire focus of the book feels unbelievable and forced at times with the added issue of an ending that feels rushed and tacked on. While I would love to recommend this title based on the quality of the prose alone, the storytelling itself must take precedent, and so this one gets a read at your own risk warning.

*Which, in it's own right, was interesting but entirely unbelievable. And just to be clear it wasn't a Sally-Jesse daytime talk show type of unbelievable... more like the 'that just wouldn't happen like that' variety

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