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A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY by Lauren Grodstein


by Lauren Grodstein

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-56512-916-0
Publisher: Algonquin

The road to hell is paved with a father’s good intentions.

Grodstein (Reproduction is the Flaw of Love, 2004, etc.) pushes some powerful emotional buttons in this tale of male mid-life angst, atavism and breakdown. Narrator Peter Dizinoff, a successful, occasionally dictatorial Jewish internist, has made good in exactly the way the American Dream promised his hard-working parents in Yonkers. He has a lovely home in New Jersey, a caring wife who has survived breast cancer, a thriving medical practice, good friends and a beloved son. Peter is proud of Alec and wants the best for his son, so he’s understandably disappointed when Alec turns rebellious, drops out of college and gets involved with the troubled daughter of Peter’s best friend Joe Stern. At 17, Laura Stern gave birth to a premature baby and abandoned it in a dumpster with a crushed skull. Acquitted of deliberate murder, she spent two years in a psychiatric facility and more than a decade away from home. Returning for a visit in 2006, this “polished, flirtatious” 31-year-old attracts the fascinated attention of considerably younger Alec. The novel doesn’t hurry to reveal how Peter comes, some time after this encounter, to be living alone above the garage of his house, rejected by his wife, Alec and Joe, forced to start a new medical practice in a poorer part of town. The twisting, occasionally confusing retrospective storyline is only the most notable of the author’s flaws in construction; direction and plotting are similarly problematic, especially the conclusion, with its pile-up of not quite plausible failures. Nonetheless, Grodstein’s wry insights, her fully imagined social panorama and her vision of a middle-class man at the crossroads testify to her considerable skill.

Ambitious, often impressive but structurally flawed work.