The stories of 20 ordinary people who have survived challenging family experiences, culled from 700 interviews by novelist and business-writer Bronson (What Should I Do With My Life, 2003, etc.).
Functioning here as part marriage and family counselor and part pop psychologist, the author has selected vignettes that demonstrate resilience on the part of individuals dealing with life’s hard knocks. Preceding each story is a photograph of the subject and an unanswerable question that may or not be dealt with in the story that follows, such as, “Which is harder, to atone or to forgive?” Most of the stories feature working-class or middle-class American families, both black and white, though Filipino, Chinese, Turkish and Mexican families are also represented. (There’s even a Protestant woman from Belfast with a Catholic husband.) They make bad choices, have bad luck, accidents and illnesses, lose their parents or their children, alienate their siblings, go through separations, divorces and other trials, but they resolve their problems and make better lives for themselves, effectively serving as role models for the rest of us. Although Bronson conducted extensive interviews with his subjects and does occasionally let them speak for themselves, the stories are burdened with his analysis of the family dynamics at play, and his interpretations of the lessons learned. Midway through the collection is an essay on the fears and false expectations that he sees as shaping attitudes toward marriage and family. Bronson concludes with a cautionary tale from his own life, revealing how the loving connection he made with a brother repaired his splintered relationship with his parents.
What was intended to be inspiring and moving too often becomes ponderous and tedious.