In two novellas that somehow manage to be both precious and dull, Knight (Goodnight, Nobody, 2003, etc.) offers scenes of mildly dysfunctional domesticity.
The first novella, The Holiday Season, is set in Alabama in the 1990s. The Posey men—Dad, Frank, Ted—are floundering. Mom’s died, and they're witless. Dad nurses the wound of his failed run for Congress while starting his drinking earlier each day. Frank shrugs off dreams of stardom by settling for journeyman work in Shakespeare Express, a Bard's “Greatest Hits” package that tours schools. Only Ted seems to thrive, with beautiful wife Marcy, twin daughters and suburban bliss. And Frank’s eaten up by unacknowledged, condescending envy. When the twins get dream gifts for Christmas, he chafes: “I kept feeling one stop removed from everything or like maybe all this was a set, the ponies and the girls and Ted.” The story brings the family, predictably, more misery as they stagnate in a bog of ambivalence-about-life. Dad is tempted by the French neighbor next door; Frank fantasizes about Marcy; Ted longs for Dad’s approval (even though he’s not sure it's withheld). The brothers attempt strained conversation. And on and on it goes. The second novella, Love at the End of the Year, is somewhat better, mainly because its families are more colorfully creepy, what with 12-year-old Evan Butter “masturbating pretty much nonstop” and Mom threatening Dad with divorce while they're getting lost on their way to a New Year’s party. Whether it’s Kevin and Urqhardt, the obligatory gay couple, teenaged Lulu Fountain, love struck by an older, callous boy, Ike Tiptoe, or sad-eyed Stella, mooning after her ex-husband Boyd, the characters are simultaneously whimsical and too-literary.
Family life is dicey. Tolstoy turned that truism into opera; Knight makes it Muzak.