Book enthusiasts love to compile “best of” lists and post them at the end of December. Every year I consider doing it too, but when I sit down to write, I find myself bristling much like Emily Nussbaum did over creating a top ten list of TV shows. Not only is it impossible to have read all the novels published in a given year, but it feels as silly as comparing paella to democracy. I just don’t think you can set an avant-garde novel about marriage like Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation against a robust family saga like We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. You may have connected to one more than the other but in fiction all things are not equal, which means neither novel can really be deemed better than the other.
Reading (and loving) a story, its’ plot and its’ characters, is a subjective experience, one that engages the head and the heart. Any fiction round up should acknowledge that the list is merely one person’s opinion. The goal instead being to contribute to the conversation about well-written stories—ones that buried themselves in the collective unconscious and those little gems that surprised and delighted perhaps only you.
For me it feels better to stick with the word favorite. My list of family fiction that engaged and moved me in 2014 includes novels I believe have the power to change you in 2015—and beyond. (More below on the amazing family fiction I read in 2014 that pubbed in previous years.)
Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston—This novel takes wishful thinking about family reunification after abduction and turns it on its head. In the aftermath of Justin Campbell’s disappearance, the boy’s family is justifiably shattered. But when he returns to them four years later, mother, father, brother, grandfather—and even Justin—should be able to resume life as they once knew it, right? Not so in this emotional novel about a fractured family and how hard it is for them to hold on to each other once again. This literary page-turner gripped me from chapter one, and will stay with me for a long time to come.
Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis—I wrote about this lovely novel in an earlier Lit Chat post about father/daughter novels. Booklist liked it too, giving it a starred review: “…this beautifully wrought novel is a sometimes wrenching but ultimately uplifting story of murder and betrayal in the face of faith, family in its truest sense, and—most of all—love.” I enjoyed everything about this story set in Provincetown Massachusetts, taking place over three decades. I found the characters fully drawn and their struggles both personal and universal.
Ghost Horse by Thomas H. McNeely—This award-winning novel does an amazing job of exploring what family means in the context of what’s happening in society. In this case, set amidst the social tensions of 1970’s Houston, Ghost Horse tells the story of eleven-year-old Buddy Turner’s shifting alliances within his fragmented family and with two other boys–one Anglo, one Latino–in their quest to make a Super-8 animated movie. As the novel unfolds, readers learn the secrets Buddy’s parents are keeping from him and the compelling narrative urges readers to consider the impact of putting a child in the middle of adult issues and problems.
The Blessings by Elise Juska—A novel in stories about the interior world of a close-knit Irish-Catholic family and the rituals that bind them. Told through the eyes of mothers and fathers, uncles and cousins, readers share the joys and sorrows of characters who leap off the page. Juska depicts family life in honest and raw ways. So much so that by the novel’s end, I longed to be part of the family, joining into the Blessings’ celebrations and grieving alongside them at the loss of beloved relatives. This gem of a family novel is not to be missed.
Family fiction I loved—though not published in 2014
Veronica’s Nap by Sharon Bially—A charming, beautifully written examination of one woman’s identity crisis after moving to Provence and having twins. Interesting portrait of the sometimes wide chasm between motherhood and artistic pursuits.
The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison—Better than Gone Girl, this novel takes a look inside a very dark and troubled marriage.
The Last Goodnight by Emily Listfield—Compelling mystery about a woman leading a double life and the impact of her lies on her present husband and baby.
LYNNE GRIFFIN is the author of the novels Life Without Summer (St. Martin’s Press, 2009) and Sea Escape (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Her short stories and essays have appeared in Parenting Magazine, The Drum Literary Magazine, Brain, Child, The Writer, the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, Huffington Post, and more. Lynne teaches family studies at the graduate level at Wheelock College, and fiction at Grub Street Writers. In partnership with Grub Street, she has created the strategic writer program called Launch Lab, for soon-to-be-published authors. Connect with Lynne on twitter @Lynne_Griffin or at her website, LynneGriffin.com.