7 Books That Masterfully Explore Family Dynamics

Claire Handscombe

Summer vacation time is upon us again, and with it, quite possibly, intense times together as families -- as if we hadn't had enough of that over the last year. These books explore dynamics at play among and between generations.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

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This insightful and well-crafted book charts the breakup and reconstitution of two families, and what happens when one of the children involved begins a relationship with a successful author who uses her history as the basis for a novel. “Patchett’s slyly knowing voice - full of wit and warmth - elevates every page of this novel - one that, through the alchemy of her writing, somehow feels more than the sum of its parts, " says Newsday.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

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The first line is masterful: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. This book insightfully narrates complex family dynamics. It’s a literary page-turner so there’s something in it for everyone — those who read primarily for plot and those who read primarily for language and character. It’s also a great book club pick, with lots of substance to discuss.

The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg

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Edie loves food. She loves it much too much. And each member of her family in turn grapples with the issue i their own way. Jami Attenberg is so good at writing distinctive voices and bringing characters to life, and this book showcases those skills brilliantly.

The Nest, by Cynthia d'Aprix Sweeney

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This book sits att the Venn Diagram intersection of two of some readers' favourite things: Rich People Problems and the quiet novel where not much really happens but where you get to observe people’s lives close up. The narrator jumps between the multiple characters with agility.

Seven Days of Us, by Francesca Hornak

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This 2017 book will no doubt aquire new significance after the events of 2020: it's the story of a family trapped together during a Christmas quarantine and the secrets and conflicts that emerge as a result.

Stay With Me, by Ayobami Adebayo

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What happens when you’ve always agreed that polygamy isn’t for you, but a baby doesn’t arrive — instead, a second wife does, and she might be able to provide one? This books puts love marriage, and family under the microscope in a fresh and heart-breaking way.

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub

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A group of vacationers spends two weeks in Mallorca, dealing with their various issues. There’s a marriage in trouble, a teenage girl desperate to lose her virginity, a couple waiting to hear if they’re getting a baby to adopt, and simmering tensions of all kinds between all of the characters. A very enjoyable read. And if you like this one, there's more: the author's next two books, Modern Lovers and All Adults Here explore complex family and group dynamics.

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC
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