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A Friend of the Family by Laura Grodstein is an intriguing and enjoyable read. Set in a wealthy New Jersey neighbourhood, it tells the story of two couples who have been friends for many years. Peter Dizinoff and Joe Stern graduated from medical school together and their wives, Elaine and Iris have known each other for just as long. In many ways their privileged lives have been almost perfect - that is until a shocking event occurs and the two couples react in such different ways that it shatters their friendship and threatens their comfortable existence.
The story is told by Peter and is written in the first person. When the book starts we find him in the present, but the story unfolds by delving back into the past with the reader having to piece all the different bits together. The story moves backwards and forwards in time and it is sometimes difficult to work out exactly when a specific event occurred. This can seem a little confusing at first but as the book progresses, this makes it all the more intriguing. It is also quite moving to discover how certain events that we read about earlier on, were the consequences of conversations or misunderstandings that we only learn about later.
Everything that occurs later in the book is the result of a shocking action involving Iris and Joe's eldest daughter. The two couples struggle to understand her actions, but Iris and Joe struggle more in coming to terms with Peter's lack of compassion. As he looks back on events, Peter realises that it was his reactions that ultimately cause the deep rift between them. As a reader, it is absorbing to follow his interpretation of what happens and all the way through the book there is perhaps a hope of reconciliation but also the possibility that it might be too late. One realises that there are things that have been said, perhaps in the heat of the moment, which cannot be unsaid particularly by Peter. Towards the end he realises that some of his behaviour is perhaps more than a little irrational and he stands to lose all he hold dear - particularly his wife and his son.
I found it quite unusual to read a book such as this, where the story is told by a male character. Peter tells the story in a very straightforward manner and the reader does not get much emotion from him. It would have been good to understand a little more of what he was feeling. I would also have liked to understand the other characters a little more, but as they were only revealed to the reader by Peter, this did not happen.
This is a fascinating book to read and also a little shocking in places. Ultimately, as you are reading, you cannot help but wonder how you would have responded to similar circumstances and that is what makes it so readable. It goes to show how fragile our lives and relationships are, and how easily they can break in difficult circumstances. It is a good portrayal of human behaviour told from the male perspective.
The book is currently available on Amazon for £6.17 (May 2010).
This review previously appeared under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk