A Perfectly Good Family by Lionel Shriver
I was passed this book by a friend and was looking forward to reading it as my daughter had kept insisting on me reading 'We need to talk about Kevin' but she also loaned it to a friend so I have not yet read that one . I still have not seen the film either but will get around to it one day.
ABIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In my ignorance I thought she was a he but Lionel is a woman and she chose the name herself as she didn't like the one her parents chose, Margaret Anne . Personally I would have stuck with that and done something with the Margaret rather than Lionel ! Judging by the names she chose in this book for her characters she does have odd taste - Corlis (female) Mordecai and Truman are not your average family names are they?
Ms Shriver has traveled extensively living in various countries around the world from Kenya to Israel, and including the UK where she lives now and of course she was originally brought up in the USA.
The author is proud of her use of English and pronunciation. She will correct anyone who pronounces 'faccid' as 'flassid' as she points out in the dictionary it shows it should be pronounced 'flak-sid'. She is also particular about the use of the word 'enervated which does not mean energised as many use it but rather the opposite - without energy.
THE PLOT OR STORY
Three children from a family who do not really get along suddenly find themselves having to deal with the death of their parents and the subsequent will and inheritance.
The narrator is Corlis who is an artist who left home and lives in London but we meet her returning to the family home to join her younger brother Truman who lives in the converted attic of their parents house with his rather dull wife, Averil. Finally Mordecai is the oldest of the siblings who didn't get on with his parents and left home at sixteen to start his own business.
The will leaves the parent's house and money to the three siblings and the fourth 'child' is a charity which benefits with a full quarter share.
The story develops as the siblings squabble over the inheritance and during the arguments we get to know them better. It is a very dark and has rather black humour. There is no where that I felt like laughing but a wry smile did cross my face at times.
Corlis ,the daughter doesn't believe she's earned a penny of the money her parents' money but seems happy to not actually do anything about earning a living herself. Truman, the youngest brother believes the house should be his because he still lives in it, has maintained it and put up with mother. Mordecai, the oldest child left the family as he didn't get on with them but wants his share and now. The story is how this will pans out for the three of them and how their relationships change as things happen.
This story is set in North Carolina and centres on the family home which is an old reconstruction mansion with a lot of history.
Apparently the author built the story around this actual house which she saw in Raleigh and the house in real is actually called 'Heck Andrews' as she chose to keep the name for her story.
The house is central to the story and as is often the case in old family homes so much within the house carries memories both happy and sad. The story is a sort of love triangle between the three siblings who all have their own baggage and resentments which are made even more so with the need to divide the estate between them and the Civil Rights Charity supported by their father.
I found them all pretty hateful to be honest. I found Corlis two faced and manipulative, Truman whiney and far too self obsessed and Mordecai totally unrealistic as a character as his behaviour is so extremely weird. Corlis runs between them playing friend to both but being friend to neither really.
I began to feel sorry for the parents having three such horribly selfish and unpleasant children but then children are usually a creation of the parent's attitudes and behaviour so maybe they deserved them.
Father spent far too much time being superior and being an important lawyer and giving his time to this charity. Mother was beautiful and slim and ended up frumpy and fat and with no real pride in herself as she had become the family 'servant'. She cleaned and cooked and tried to keep everyone happy.
The title of the book refers to the fact that Mother would never throw anything away such as washing up sponges as they were 'perfectly good'. The freezer was full of plastic bags of strange unidentifiable 'perfectly good' left overs. That did make me smile as my mother used to put things in the freezer and we would find them years later and not be able to identify what it had been!
Having been the recipient of an inheritance that was not without its problems I did find this quite upsetting. I felt a bit sorry for the parents who had obviously thought they were leaving enough to give each of their children and their favourite charity a real leg up financially and yet all it caused was upset.
Wills it seems can cause major family upset and luckily my sister s and I managed to sort our parent's estate out amicably despite my father's best efforts to cause friction by leaving his estate to the son of his second wife of only four years and leaving us out!
Another will I know of has caused two sisters in law not to speak to each other despite the fact they were really good friends prior to the death of the mother / mother in law. Yet another was when one side of the family was written out of a will when the child died before the mother so her offspring got nothing. Yet another will has seen a son in law get two shares of a will divided equally to siblings as his wife died and he also the beneficiary of her brother's will which didn't go down too well with the remaining siblings.
It was interesting to see how the characters changed as events unfolded in quite horrifying ways . I could never have been so uncaring towards my siblings but then my siblings are not in the same league of weirdness as these were. I would not have liked any of them in truth so had little sympathy with any one of them.
Despite not liking the characters they were well presented in their awfulness though a little lacking in reality and a bit two dimensional. I wanted to slap each one in turn and tell them to wake up to reality and appreciate what they had. They almost became decent at times but I found Corlis' playing one off against the other very underhand and felt she deserved her position of piggy in the middle and loyal to none and receiving none in return.
I did find myself losing interest at times as I really didn't care about the characters although the end was a bit of a surprise. There are some scenes that would make great film black-humour , such as the painfully awful Christmas when Mordecai brings along his work colleagues to share the family Christmas. However I did feel that there were times when I could have put the book down and not bothered if I was the sort of person who gives up on books.
I persevered and felt the end was some sort of salvation for the novel but it concentrated far too much on the family relationships and need a bit more story or action to help it along and this didn't really happen till the end.
If this had been the only book the author had written I wouldn't be worried. I will try 'We Have to talk about Kevin', but I am not sure how I feel about this one and also not sure I would recommend it as a 'must read' book. It was interesting and for me, a little upsetting as it did bring back some rather unhappy memories re wills. I am just so glad that my family is actually well balanced and have managed to withstand strange will decisions that could have caused all kinds of upsets but we stuck together as sisters and supported each other.
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