Unconventional Families

Next week, excitingly, terrifyingly, I will be interviewing three fantastic authors – Karen Joy Fowler (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves), Gareth Crocker (The Last Road Trip) and Finuala Dowling (The Fetch) for Open Book on the topic, Unconventional Families. Aren’t all families unconventional or don’t they all believe that they are? adams family

Of course, Tolstoy. I won’t get away without mentioning Tolstoy.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.‘ –  Leo Tolstoy

Is this true? I don’t think so. I’d put it the other way around. Tolstoy and I could come to blows on this matter. Unhappy families share similarities. There is almost always a person ‘causing all the problems’. Were it not for that person everyone would be happy, or so the family members claim. Of course this is not true: the family is a system: each part a perfect response to the others. Psychological research, that oxymoron, says that there are two common ways for families to be unhappy: disengagement or enmeshment.

Then what makes a  family happy? Now that’s a question worth answering.

But I won’t be answering it. Instead, I will be questioning these authors with the understanding that there are three overlapping families in operation here: their family of origin (why else do we read, and eventually write, but to escape our family of origin?), their current family (in whatever form) and the fictional families created in their novels. The biggest perk of being a writer is that you can make up families. In what other job can you do this? Normally you’re stuck with what you’ve got but not so when you write. You can make up the best mother in the world or the most terrible child ever. Ask Lionel Shriver about Kevin.

Come along next Thursday to the Book Lounge if you want to talk about unconventional families.