Families in Crisis

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Here, our book editor Beth Goehring's compelling selection of reads: three novels that delve into the theme of families in crisis. "These books have stayed with me long after I’ve finished that last satisfying sentence and my friends with whom I’ve shared these books have all felt the same way," says Goehring. We know you will love these page turners too!

Every family has its skeletons – meet three families whose stories redefine the meaning of family drama

I am so excited to write about books for CESLIE-The Women’s Network. Reading is not only a lifelong passion, but it’s my job. As the editor-in-chief for a group of book clubs that includes Book-of-the-Month Club®, The Literary Guild®, Doubleday Book Club®, Mystery Guild®, and The Good Cook®, I hear the early buzz about what will soon be hot in everything from autobiography to zoology. In any week, my colleagues and I review hundreds of upcoming books to choose those that really deliver, whether it’s with fascinating characters, an unforgettable story, a vicarious thrill, a wealth of useful information or compelling inspiration. Hands-down, the best thing about my job is finding that hidden gem, a novel that wasn’t lavished with a huge marketing budget, not for lack of charm or quality, but because of a publisher’s limited resources. When I can make a match between one of these unsung heroes and a grateful reader, then I’ve done my job well!

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of reading three novels that delve into this theme of a family in crisis. Each story is an unforgettable family drama—and let’s be honest it’s not just me who loves this kind of story. What makes these three books different from so many others is that the authors tease out the secrets that are warping the characters’ lives in such compelling and sometimes surprising ways. By love and friendship, by fury and vengeance, the truth comes out and the healing begins. These books have stayed with me long after I’ve finished that last satisfying sentence and my friends with whom I’ve shared these books have all felt the same way. I present these three completely captivating stories of families in crisis by women authors I admire. I promise they will keep you turning the pages long into the night.

Vanishing Act

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"This book will stick in your head."

I cannot get THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX by Maggie O’Farrell (Harcourt, October 2007) out of my head. It’s bold and vivid; it’s shocking and very moving. Iris, a young woman in contemporary Edinburgh, discovers she is now responsible for Great-aunt Esme, a relative she didn’t even know existed, and who’s been in an insane asylum for the last 61 years. Put there by her father at only 16, Esme must now take her first tentative steps back into the world. Why Esme lost her freedom and how she and Iris cope is just riveting. Maggie O’Farrell’s a new name to me, though she’s published other critically acclaimed fiction before. When you finish the story of the consequences of Esme’s refusal to conform to turn-of-the-century Edinburgh’s strict social code, you’ll be searching for more from Maggie O’Farrell.

Astrid and Veronika

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"Two women learn to trust again."

Linda Olsson’s ASTRID AND VERONIKA (Penguin, February 2007) is set in Sweden as winter turns to spring. After her fiancé’s sudden death, Veronika retreats to a small house in the countryside. Her neighbor is an elderly lady the townspeople call the “old witch.” As Veronika befriends Astrid, Astrid reveals a tale of betrayal, love, and despair that is simply heartbreaking. As the year moves toward the season of midnight sun and the two women watch the natural world re-awaken, Astrid and Veronika both learn to trust and love again. The jacket art of a handful of wild strawberries sets the mood perfectly for this journey into the hearts of these two wounded women.

Ice Trap

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"Suspicions arise when a daughter suddenly appears."

Fire and ice fight for the upper hand in ICE TRAP by Kitty Sewell (Touchstone, January 2008). Dr. Dafydd Woodruff receives a letter from a girl who claims to be his daughter, one of a set of twins born to a nurse he knew on a stint 13 years ago in a wilderness outpost in the sub-arctic. He knows for a fact this can’t be true. Why is Sheila Hailey lying? And how could the DNA tests be linked to Dafydd? The author’s own husband received a letter like this and as a former psychologist Sewell followed the advice she gave to her own patients: write down your feelings. Out of this emotional work comes a searing novel of psychological suspense. There’s a central Inuit character whose beliefs and culture plays a large part in this story. There’s no knowing what you’ll learn in a good book!

Wherever I read or hear about it, I find myself captivated when the story is about a family in crisis. This of course makes me wonder: What is this fascination we have with family situations gone awry? I’m not one to psychoanalyze but I think Tolstoy summed up our fascination with family dysfunction so brilliantly with “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s the unique tale that unfolds with each new family drama that keeps us engrossed. No matter how common the thread, the details and the endings always vary, sometime dramatically and sometimes subtly. Families have been a source of drama and entertainment for hundreds, even thousands of years. Whether we are reading about a family in crisis in the 16th century or the struggles of today’s modern family, what pulls us in to the story each time is the undeniable strength and endurance of the familial bond that is always on display.

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