Steeling yourself for the onslaught of family togetherness that accompanies the season? Put your uncle’s off-color jokes or your sister-in-law’s momsplaining in perspective with these novels and memoirs, which prove that fraught family dynamics make for great reading.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Adult siblings bickering over money? Sounds familiar. But in the case of the Plumbs, the stakes are a little higher: They’re all counting on a sizable trust fund that kicks in when the youngest of them turns 40—that is, until their reckless brother puts their inheritance into question.
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
This story, set in and around the family taxidermy shop, begins with a suicide. But it’s not all a downer: The book follows 30-something Jessa, her mother and her brother as they reconnect after tragedy in ways that are sometimes funny, sometimes sad and often surprising. (Seriously, it includes NSFW taxidermy art.)
My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Strout has a gift for creating memorable characters, and the central duo in this book are no exception. Lucy, in the hospital recovering from an illness, attempts to reconcile with her estranged mother, all the while reflecting on the troubled, small-town upbringing she left behind.
The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
Karr’s 1995 memoir is a touchstone for the genre, and for good reason: She paints a wry picture of her childhood in a 1960s Texas oil town, shadowed by alcoholism, mental illness and sexual abuse—and still manages to treat much of it like a fond, funny memory.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Sure, your sister can be selfish and inconsiderate, but at least she doesn’t have a habit of murdering people? That’s the situation Korede finds herself in when her younger sister Ayoola’s boyfriends keep “mysteriously” disappearing.
This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
In the wake of his father’s death, Judd reunites with his mother and siblings for the first time in years—and surprise, they’re stuck together for seven days and nights while they sit shiva. (Think about that while you sit through dinner with your in-laws.)
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith is a master of building familial conflict. Nowhere is that skill more on display than in On Beauty, where the families of two rival professors get tangled up in all sorts of ways. It’s a novel about race, class and academia, but also very much about individuals trying to define themselves outside the family unit.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel’s critically acclaimed graphic memoir—which went on to become a critically acclaimed Broadway musical—recounts growing up and discovering her sexual identity, while living in a household with a stern, closeted father, who ran a funeral home (the titular “fun home”).
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Kids of high-achieving parents, take note: This memoir recounts the author’s complex relationship with her brilliant, demanding, critical father—Apple cofounder Steve Jobs. But it’s less about her famous dad’s accomplishments than it is about a daughter’s challenge of navigating her parents’ very different worlds.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Before it was a Y2K era-defining Sofia Coppola movie, Eugenides’s debut novel was a fascinating look at a troubled Michigan family with five teenage daughters in the 1970s. (Spoiler alert: It doesn't end well.)
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