A Good Family (★★★★★)

A Good Family Fassnacht

Erik Fassnacht   *   St. Martin’s Press   *   August 25, 2015   *   432 Pages

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A Good Family, by Erik Fassnacht, is a story about the endearing, but darkly funny (and seriously dysfunctional) Brunson Family. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the four family members. Henry Brunson is having a midlife crisis of epic proportions and has been living apart from his family (and sleeping with any vagina in his path) for the past two years. Unsurprisingly, his wife, Julie, isn’t doing well with this arrangement. Unwilling to admit that her marriage is over, she is wasting her days away pining for what her life used to be. Both of their sons, Charlie and Barkley, are understandably confused by their parents’ relationship but, more pressingly, somewhat lost in their own lives, unsure of what they want or where they fit. And the story moves forward from there.

This book blew me away. Just oh my God, you know? The depth, the humor. I loved every single one of the characters, even the unlikeable ones. And the story is wonderful. I couldn’t predict immediately where it would go, and I found myself genuinely surprised over and over again. There is a little bit of mystery, a little bit of suspense, but the story keeps moving, developing, changing.

I think what I love most about this book is how the four characters, taken together, end up, somewhat stealthily, describing the requirements of a worthwhile, meaningful life. Henry’s choices—but especially his regrets—show the importance of connection. Getting everything he can whenever he can, of course, feels good in the short-term, but because it prevents him from being vulnerable and connecting with other people, it isn’t fulfilling in the long-term. Julie’s life is a perfect example of how important passion is—how there is no such thing as replacing your hobbies, interests, or talents (whatever makes you feel your own personal version of joy) with relationships, even a marriage. Charlie shows how important it is to get out and experience the world, to test yourself, to push yourself to feel things—maybe especially fear, so that you can also feel what it’s like to be brave.

But my favorite component of a well-lived life is what Barkley brings to the table: reflection. Sure, there is no substitute for getting yourself out there and experiencing life, but examination gives those experiences meaning. Without processing and analyzing the things that happen to us, we can’t understand what we want, how we feel, what’s important, etc. Reflection makes us wise.

At any rate, I loved this book. Start to finish, I was completely engaged and absolutely intrigued by the characters and story. Hands down, one of my favorite books of 2015.

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