Monday, April 19, 2010
A Misguided Parent
“A Friend of the Family” is Lauren Grodstein’s second novel. Ms. Grodstein grew up in New Jersey’s Bergen County, and has set this novel in the fictitious upscale town of Round Hill. The story opens as the narrator, Dr. Pete Dizinoff, tells us that he is living in the studio apartment that he and his wife built for their only son after he dropped out of Hampshire College.
Pete is waiting for the result of a malpractice lawsuit that will determine whether or not he will be allowed to practice medicine. But that is not the reason Pete is sleeping in the studio, banished from the comfortable home he and his wife have lived in for twenty five years. As the story evolves Pete tells us how he ended up estranged from his wife and son, not on speaking terms with his oldest and dearest friend and no longer the owner of a lucrative medical practice.
With interesting flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks, we learn Pete's history and the culture of Round Hill. This is a suburban town inhabited by families striving to give their kids "everything we didn't have”. Pete’s son, Alec, had the audacity to fail out of a college that “doesn’t even give grades". And what did Pete and his wife do? They built him an art studio over the garage.
Pete is just waiting for Alec to return to school. But Alec just cannot accommodate his father. When the daughter of Pete’s best friend returns to Round Hill, after a banishment ten years ago, the trouble begins. Everyone, except Pete, seems ready to forgive and forget what happened ten years ago. When his son becomes interested in this woman, Pete goes crazy.
The last fifty pages of this novel are gripping. The novel moved in a plodding way as Pete, carefully and humorously, explained what happened. But then we realize that Pete is a totally unreliable narrator. The climax is shocking and sad as we come to understand that Pete is a delusional parent whose self-deception has led him dangerously astray.
This is a very good story about people who are driven by what they deem is status and are unable to remember who they are or where they came from. Lauren Grodstein knows her material well and has captured a place and time with amazing clarity and perception.