Friday, January 4, 2013

It's a Family Affair

Somewhere I read that the holiday season is close to ten percent of the year, starting around Thanksgiving and ending around New Year’s Day.  That’s an awful lot of good cheer and perhaps, way too much time spent with or thinking about family and all that goes with that.  
For some this year, this past season has been exceptionally challenging due to various circumstances, some fairly horrific.  In general, it can be pretty stressful for many, even if it is a happy occasion.  There’s all that extra stuff we do to make the holiday happen.  Decorating, buying and wrapping presents, cooking, sending out cards (though in my case, at least the cat writes the annual letter), and then there's all the extra socializing and traveling many of us do.  It’s all a little tiring and when, finally, New Year’s Day does come along, a lot of us are ready to shut the front door and hibernate for a while. 

Hibernating for me means watching all that I've recorded on the DVR, from Downton Abbey to Fringe, along with a few shows I’d be embarrassed to admit to viewing.  Suffice it to say that those other shows catch my interest for more than their high minded nature.  Need I say more?   

It is also the perfect time of year to nestle into my well worn leather chair, a cat on my lap and a cup of tea by my side, with a good book to read.  Though, isn’t it always a perfect time to do just that?  At least this time of year I don’t feel guilty about not working in my garden. 

So what to read? 

Well, if you’d like to read about a family more screwed up than yours, I’d recommend Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann.  Here, we see a family through the eyes of five main characters, each in his or her section.  The story covers a period from the mid 1940’s till the late 1960’s, and though not everyone’s story is from the same time period, they do overlap.  There is a murder at a central point, yet the book is more about family relationships and life choices.  Much of the story is told during the time when everyone is sharing a home on Martha’s Vineyard, a place I've always loved.  Though in this book, the Vineyard is not quite the summer paradise I recall, it’s a bit more Hitchcock.   

I’m not certain I actually liked the book but I was drawn to the characters, all very well created. That alone was worth the read, even if the family was a bit creepy.

Another interesting family, if I can stretch the word a bit, was that of the characters in The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere.  A single woman in her thirties in 1950 rural Tennessee, already dealing with the loss of her mother, stumbles across a brutally abused child in need of a savior.  Though the town is somewhat divided by her choice, which many think is the wrong one, it is a choice that helps two lost souls find a way to help each other.  As vile as certain aspects of this book were, I liked it more than Klaussmann’s book.  Perhaps because it is an uplifting story of how some choose who will be their family, even if their choices mean there are other aspects of life they may lose along the way. 

How does that song go?  Girls just wanna have fun!  After the last two books, that’s what I needed.   

Nobody puts the fun in dysfunctional family life like Janet Evanovich does in her Stephanie Plum novels, the most recent one being Notorious Nineteen.   Don’t get me wrong, I don’t read these for the plots (pretty much unchanged) or for the scholarly writing (not); it is for the laugh out loud break from reality that has me addicted, that and one or two characters I wouldn’t mind knowing a little better.  While I don’t actually know anyone like these people, her books do sometimes remind me of the small Eastern city (aka Scranton) I used to visit when I was younger.  I can think of a number of people there who would fit right in, including a few from my own family.  That makes it all the more entertaining!

I guess with all the holidays just passed, I have family on the brain. What is family, after all?  Is it just those individuals we are related to by either blood or law?  Or is it those we have added to our life along the way?  Perhaps it is a bit of both.   

Something to ponder while I choose my next book, maybe a good murder mystery would be a good choice after this family affair.  Even if there’s still a wreath on the front door, I'll be sure to lock it and put out the hibernation sign in case any of the crazier members of my extended family decide to decamp on my porch.

Mind you, it may be that they think I’m the crazy one…


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