So your family is a group of mixed nuts who repeatedly put you in a double-cheek kiss. They still have nothing on the berserk family trees rooted in some of literature’s classics. Below, you’ll find a list of books about dysfunctional families that feature some of the most rapacious kith and kin to ever disgrace a page. Give ‘em a go, and we promise, you’ll be thankful for that slimy smooch.
The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead
Back in the 40s when Aussie Christina Stead’s portrait of a family first released, The Man Who Loved Children fell flat with critics and was shelved. It wasn’t until more than 20 years later when critics dubbed it a classic that her novel would receive the praise it deserves. In 2010, novelist Jonathan Franzen revived interest in this comedy of horrors, a tale about a D.C. family with too many kids, too little money, and way too much conflict is a dense and lengthy read that blends political, social, and marital matters of the heart.
The Ice Storm, by Rick Moody
Behind every perfectly draped window treatment, there are drugs, lies, and swingers’ parties. At least, that’s how it is in their families. Meet the Hoods and the Williamses, neighboring hedonists who live in an exclusive Connecticut suburb and make the Kardashians look like saints. Set over Thanksgiving in 1973, Rick Moody’s character study chronicles the dissolution of two families over just one weekend. And it’s glorious. When you’re done, queue up the Golden Globe-nominated film.
Shades of Fortune, by Stephen Birmingham
No matter how high you rise, you can always count on your family to bring you back down. And for Mimi Myerson, the heroine of Stephen Birmingham’s 1989 novel, that couldn’t be more true. In a narrative filled to the margins with rapacious characters, Mimi, the daughter of an immigrant family who fought their way from desolate shores to the streets of Manhattan, is now top dog at a big-time cosmetics company. Though it’s just a matter of time until familial turmoil catches up to her.
The War Between the Tates, by Alison Lurie
Love and marriage—it’s an institution you can’t disparage. Unless you’re a middle-aged wife who’s sick of her insufferable kids and cheating husband. Meet Erica, the matriarch at the center of a civil war who may be losing the battle but is damn sure going to win the war. With humor and empathy from all sides, Lurie crafts a dark comedy that reimagines the American dream.
The Hearts and Lives of Men, by Fay Weldon
Once upon a time, two people fell in love, had a baby, then got divorced. The end. Though in Fay Weldon’s modern-day fairy tale, the end is only the beginning. A 20-year saga revolving around the Wexfords, The Hearts of Lives and Men kicks off in the sexual revolution of 1960s London, when Cliff and Helen fall in love at first sight, then heads straight into the ever after, which includes squabbles that lead to the disappearance of their 3-year-old daughter.
Damage, by Josephine Hart
A New York Times–best seller, Josephine Hart’s emotional masterpiece is a literary tour de force that has been called many things: disturbing, compelling, stunning. Though her main character remains nameless. A novel about an unnamed British politician whose obsession over his son’s fiancée leads to ultimate destruction, Damage is at once a heart-pounding erotic thriller and gripping comment on the sordid underbelly of obsessive love and betrayal.
The Wheel of Fortune, by Susan Howatch
Anglophiles, you’re in luck. Susan Howatch’s sweeping epic about a wealthy Welsh family is just what you’re looking for. The story, which is narrated by the youngest Robert Godwin and spans 50 years beginning in 1913, is a roller coaster of emotions. Hang on to your knickers as you flip through chapters of love, lust, and murder. It’s mayhem that all begins with a sordid affair with a sheep farmer.
The Great Santini, by Pat Conroy
You’ve seen the touching videos: A little girl with a teddy bear surprised by a military dad home from a lengthy tour. Tear. This isn’t that. Meet Bull Meechum, New York Times best-selling author Pat Conroy’s alpha-male marine pilot who lords over his family just as he commands the clouds. But it’s Ben, his eldest, who gets the brunt of the Bull’s force. Though it isn’t long before the 18-year-old returns the horns.
The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck
The Good Earth earned Pearl S. Buck a shiny Pulitzer Prize. A story about the joys and tragedies to be had by a land-hungry farmer and his former-slave wife, Buck’s moving novel, set against the tumultuous background of China in the 1920s, transcended all boundaries to become a universal classic. And it’s definitely worthy of your book club.
Tobacco Road, by Erskine Caldwell
Set during the Depression in Augusta, Georgia, Erskine Caldwell’s lurid vision of the American South leaks off the pages of Tobacco Road like spittle from a hair lip. A darkly comedic narrative, it was immensely popular in the 30s and 40s. It’s easy to see why once you get a gander of the Lesters, the clan of screwballs at the focus of Caldwell’s novel. So destitute they live off fat-back rinds and cornmeal, the Lesters lie, cheat, steal their way through 108 pages. And as the scandals pile up, so do the turnips, vermin, and skeletons.