Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Friend of the Family

The title of this novel,  A Friend of the Family, by Lauren Grodstein drew me to the reading of it. As an English major, I had read and enjoyed [as well as anyone could enjoy a book on such a painful subject] A Death in the Family by James Agee, so when I picked up this novel, I had no idea what was ahead. Rarely any more do I just pull a book from the shelf and know little about it -- I pull my selections from a long list of books I want to read --- book recommendations from friends and other sources...:).

I used to stand in the stacks and pull book after book from the shelves with little reasoning behind why I might pull one or the other -- but a title sometimes was enough to make me choose it -- thus, the choosing of  A Friend of the Family.

Pete Dizinoff, known as Dr. Pete to his friends, lived the good life. Having built a thriving practice as an internist in a posh suburb named Round Hill, New Jersey, he and his wife raised their only son Alec in the best of private schools, only for Alec to lose his way. After bailing him out of trouble with the law and helping him secure a spot in an expensive liberal arts college, Pete's disappointment in Alec's choices accelerate when Alec quits and return to his parents' home, where he declares that he needs time to “find himself.” Impatient, at best, with his son’s decision and his wife’s support of it, Pete secretly seethes inside -- but outwardly grins and bears it.

Meanwhile, the Dizinoff’s best friends’ wayward daughter returns to Round Hill after having lived away from home for twelve years. Residing at her parents’ house a few blocks away, the troubled Laura, with a “hushed” history, befriends Alec, who’s immediately smitten by the attentions of a pretty girl ten years his senior, and their relationship unhinges Pete.  What Dr. Pete will do to keep his only son “safe” makes this book a page turner.

Grodstein lays her novel out with an unusual chronology -- a jerky time movement that adds suspense and mystery to the story. With that stylistic approach and the enigmatic but relatable Dr. Pete, she allows us to understand what a parent might be capable of doing in order to protect what he has so carefully built and made an investment in  -- his son’s future.

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