This entertaining debut novel unsparingly takes on damaged family ecosystems and the show-business machine.
It is no surprise to learn that the family in Real Happy Family is really unhappy. Precocious Lorelei, barely out of her teens, is a disgraced reality show also-ran. Holed up in Reno with her milquetoast boyfriend, she is hiding from life and descending rapidly into meth addiction. Colleen, her mother, is the source of Lorelei’s greatest support but also of her career’s swift implosion. Lorelei has cut off Colleen, and without her daughter nearby to carry her own dashed ambitions, Colleen drifts desperately in Fresno. She is unable to connect with her morally upstanding husband, Carl, consoling herself instead with prescription drugs, militant exercise and lavish purchases made on a secret credit card. Carl is going through his own quiet torture, equally worried about Lorelei but baffled and displeased by his enabling, glamour-hungry wife. Meanwhile, Carl’s son from a previous marriage, Darren, is about to pack off for a job that could potentially make his career as a cinematographer but which would take him away from his wife, Robin, whom he’s just started injecting with hormones to help her get pregnant. And the sour grape on the sundae: Colleen blames Robin for everything, because Robin is Lorelei’s agent. Around and around it goes, each character in a complex spiral of his or her own making but each with the power to change the others’ lives, a power that increases exponentially as the book progresses. While the locations shift per character, the real setting is Hollywood, especially the new Hollywood of reality television and its creeping reach into everyday life.
Widger has created a delicate suspension bridge out of her characters’ relationships to one another and the world, and throughout the course of the novel, she steadily, craftily adds weight, making for compulsive reading.