The Suburbs. They are everywhere. Some middle class, some upper class. Some things are talked about, like gossip, but the hard things are stuffed in a box until they overflow. In some neighborhoods, people are in competition with each other. Who has the flashier luxury car? Who has the latest gadget? Which couple can outdo each other? Who has the better dinner party? Who has the bigger house? And how many children can they fill that house with?
Of course the children aren't off limits because they have to be a part of the competition, too. The children have to grow up and be better than their parents. Only the best schools will do. Second-best, third-best, or heaven forbid nothing at all, just won't do. What happens when your children stray off the path? What if they disrupt what you had planned for them? Those are just some of the themes at hand in A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein.
Dr. Pete Dizinoff is a man in turmoil. A man from Round Hill, N.J. He would rather stay on the unbeaten path, and watch his beloved Nets on TV. Pete has been accused of medical malpractice, his friendship with Iris and Joe Stern is falling apart, his marriage to Elaine is on the skids, and his own son, Alec, hates him. If only everyone could see he had good intentions at heart. It all stems from Alec's relationship with the Stern's much older and troublesome daughter, Laura.
Laura Stern has just returned to town after years of living a nomadic lifestyle. Most people, especially Joe, embrace Laura and ignore her past. Why bring up the past when it is so ugly? But Pete can't just sit and watch. Laura spent years in a mental institution following the death of her premature baby. Was she really crazy or did she get away with murder? Pete wants to protect his son at all costs, and can't understand what people see in Laura. He sees a flighty slut, but he would never tell Joe that, and Elaine sees someone who deserves sympathy.
"I didn't ask Elaine what her reckoning was, why our local baby-skull smasher belonged in heaven. I only kissed her head and wondered at the way she saw the world, and at the largeness of her mercy."
The friendship between the Dizinoffs and the Sterns has seen its ups and downs, but Pete's determination to sabotage Laura and Alec's relationship could bring it all down. What lengths does a parent go when they see their child making mistakes? Pete's choice is to be the third wheel in the relationship, further alienating him from Alec. Pete has to be in control. He has to save Alec, just as Joe and Iris did with Laura. Except in Laura's situation, Pete feels the need to be judgemental from afar and desert his friend in his hour of need. It's OK for Pete to assert his own morality in Laura's case, but nobody should dare be judgemental when it comes to Alec. His son is different, his son isn't a baby killer. His son has a chance to be great.
Laura is messing up Alec's future, which Pete had all planned out. After years of infertility, the Dizinoffs were blessed with a child, and Alec must reward his parents (really Pete) for their efforts. College, a good job, marriage and children. But hurricane Laura messes with Alec's head, ruining everything.
"How little respect he had for us -- how little respect any of them had for us! We were foolish, idiotic, the relics of another age. Obsolete. He was the future. And this was what he was doing with himself."
Lauren Grodstein's novel is gripping from start to finish. The mystery surrounding Pete's personal and professional career, and Laura's past are revealed little by little. Each chapter left me wanting for more. There were moments in the final 60 pages that left me with my mouth wide open. Love, parenting and friendship are themes everyone can relate to, make sure to check this one out.
Rating: O.M.G. !!!
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information on Lauren Grodstein visit: http://laurengrodstein.com/