1. The Karenins and the Levins
Anna Karenina is the ultimate family drama, complete with its famous opening line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
2. The Deckers
Donna Tartt’s new novel is being called “Dickensian” and “Harry Potteresque” which is shorthand for saying that its hero has more than a few problems at home.
3. The Mitras
Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2013 National Book Award fiction finalist charts the disintegration of a formerly happy Indian family pulled apart by politics, violence, and unflagging idealism.
4. The Lamberts
Love him or think he’s a pompous ass, one thing is for sure: Jonathan Franzen artfully captures the travails of a Midwestern clan.
5. The Binewskis
If you’ve ever felt like your sibling is a freak, look no further. Geek Love follows a carny family, all of whom have special “talents”, as they travel from circus to circus.
6. The Melroses
Edward St. Aubyn’s exquisite collection of four connected novellas proves that British aristocrats might just be the most depraved of all of us.
7. The Plaskett-Khatchadourians
How could a mother possibly not love her son? Lionel Shriver’s creepy heartbreaker of a novel explains how and why, to devastating effect.
8. The Belseys and the Kipps
Race, class, religion, academia and art are just some of the weighty topics that Zadie Smith explores in her second novel, in which the lives of two families intersect in surprising ways.
9. The Middlesteins
Jami Attenberg’s great gift is that she lovingly humanizes her titular characters—members of a Jewish American family in crisis—even as she shows the worst in them.
10. The Gladneys
The extended Gladney family (Dad was married five times) contains multitudes: drug addiction, unbridled consumerism, obsession with violence, and a big dose of good old-fashioned death anxiety.
11. The Blackwoods
After more than half their family is murdered (always beware of arsenic in the sugar bowl!), the Blackwood girls and their ailing uncle are kept isolated and alone. Like Grey Gardens, but with more killing!
12. The Fangs
Nothing can be “normal” about a family comprised of two performance artists and their children. Kevin Wilson’s novel is poignant even as it makes you laugh at the absurdities of the Fang clan’s purposefully dramatic life.
13. The Dollys
Before Walter White came along, there was another meth-cooking father who caused familial chaos. Set in an impoverished corner of the Ozarks, Winter’s Bone is the story of one young girl struggling to survive despite her father’s neglect.
14. The Lisbons
Jeffrey Eugenides’s first novel—AKA that Sofia Coppola movie with Kirsten Dunst—takes suburban adolescent ennui to new extremes. The story of the beautiful, tragic Lisbon girls will haunt you long after you read the final page.
15. The Bigtrees
If you think your childhood was rough, consider Ava Bigtree. Her mom (an alligator wrestler) is dead, her dad is trying to keep the family business afloat, her brother has abandoned them for the city, and her sister has married a ghost. Equal parts bitter reality and fantasy.
16. The Unnamed Family in We the Animals
We don’t know the last name of the family in Justin Torres’s haunting debut, but we do know that the family loves and hates with a similar passion. A short, quick read that’s packed with emotion.
17. The Edelsteins
What happens when a girl can actually taste emotions in her mother’s cooking? And what if the birthday cake her mother baked for her tastes unmistakably like despair? Just as in her amazing short stories, Aimee Bender uses fantastical elements in her novel to convey the depths of ordinary unhappiness.
18. The VanMeters
WASP wedding goes horribly awry! Watch as the troubled (in a fun way!) VanMeter family fumbles their way through what was supposed to be a breezy, happy weekend.
19. The Buendías
Gabriel García Márquez’s epic work of magical realism follows the lives of seven generations of the doomed Buendía family. Even as tragedy looms, there is too much beauty in these pages to want to look away.
20. The Witherspoons
More like two dysfunctional families! Silver Sparrow is the story of a bigamist in 1980s whose half-daughters become friendly. Terrible revelations ensue, of course.
21. Jeanette’s Family in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
Take one die hard evangelical Christian mother. Add an opinionated gay daughter. Watch the fireworks go off. In her highly acclaimed first novel, Jeanette Winterson takes an awful situation and makes it undeniably funny.
22. The Atwells
What deep, dark family secret could cause 15 year-old Thea to be shipped off to a fancy Southern boarding school during the Great Depression? The answer might not entirely surprise you, but Thea’s fearlessness in the pursuit of her desires is to be admired.
23. The Elbuses
It’s the 1980s, and 14 year-old June Elbus’s beloved uncle is dying of AIDS. June becomes a sympathetic, highly relatable heroine, as she tries to make sense of this tragedy and her family’s less than graceful reaction to it.
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