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Following the death of her worthy liberal parents Corlis McCrea moves back into her family's grand Reconstruction mansion in North Carolina willed to all three siblings Her timid younger brother has never left home When her bullying black sheep older brother moves into his house as well it's warEach heir wants the house Yet to buy the other out two siblings must team against one Just as in girlhood Corlis is torn between allying with the decent but fearful youngest and the iconoclastic eldest who covets his legacy to destroy it A Perfectly Good Family is a stunning examination of inheritance literal and psychological what we take from our parents what we discard and what we are stuck with like it or not

10 thoughts on “A Perfectly Good Family

  1. says:

    Lionel Shriver has been a huge discovery for me She is a ridiculously gifted writer and I look forward to working my way through her novels Shriver’s “A Perfectly Good Family” was as near to a perfect novel as I have ever read It is the story of three very different siblings who inherit their family home a very grand southern colonial manor A bulk of the story takes place in the home and it is very dialogue heavy As I was reading I kept thinking that it would really translate well into a stage play Shriver does a fantastic job at writing tension and cutting remarks The novel is told from the point of view of the middle child and only girl Corlis Corlis spends much of the book analyzing her two brothers and dead parents yet is very unaware of her own culpability in the family dynamic There was one big thing about Corlis’ narrative that really rang true for me the way she described her parents She lashed out at them and picked on their short comings I often find myself doing the same thing regarding my mom who passed away three years ago I think it comes from a place of hurt and frustrating but it can come across as callous I’m not sure if I would have understood this part of Corlis if I had not had personal experience My only negative was how the book ended I felt like it was wrapped up a bit too neatly although I am not sure of a better way to have ended it

  2. says:

    Re read made it to the end this time Yes I saw the ending coming but enjoyed getting there All clever people everywhere of the consensus that families bring out the best and worst in us and that we're better with them than without I begrudgingly agree ;First readMany of those great multi charactered tense and alive scenes Shriver excels at but far too rambly I got a lot from it but can't recommend

  3. says:

    Compared to We Need to Talk about Kevin and So Much for That this novel was a huge disappointment I was confused when I read it was published in 2009 because it seemed so much weaker than her latest novel; it was only later that I realized it was a reprint of a 1996 work which explains why it doesn’t uite have her trademark sharp wit insightful narrator cynical observations and loveably irascible charactersI often expect that a writer’s most autobiographical work will be their warmest and most enjoyable but that certainly is not the case here Corlis resembles Shriver in her North Carolina heritage her self imposed exile to the UK and her upbringing in a liberal household with two brothers However the depictions of the American South and of London both seem caricatured; neither rings true to me It’s as if Shriver was in between cultures too long gone to lovingly evoke her Raleigh childhood but not anglicized enough to use English slang without sounding like a touristThe plot is fairly thin Corlis has returned to North Carolina after the death of her penny pinching mother to work on dividing up the house and its assets The main complication is that the house has been divided four ways between the three siblings and their father’s beloved ACLU and none of the parties are willing to give up the house or the money it will bring Corlis has to decide which brother she will support in the bid to buy the house and pay out the other siblingWhat I most enjoyed about the novel was the reminiscences of the mother’s extreme spendthrift ways scraping mold off of old cheese and bread keeping small frozen portions of food for decades carefully guarding every rubber band and stamp It made me smile but also made me wonder if I’ll be that batty old packrat one day – I’m well on my way now

  4. says:

    12292011 I had high expectations for this novel my third of Lionel Shriver's works But it was clear to me from reading this older work first published 1996; WNTTAK was published 2003 SMFT 2010 how much Shriver's work has advanced over the last 15 years While APGF bears all the hallmarks of Shriver's later works gorgeous and complex sentences incisive and often harshly critical observations of characters and relationships and intense scrutiny of what at first seem like minor details it is also less fluid less organized a bit exaggerated a bit less perfect In those fifteen years Shriver has developed an extraordinary finesse a sometimes frighteningly smooth though still intricate and delicate touch She has advanced from characters like Mordecai McCrea or his mother Eugenia almost caricatures of a genius boor and a self abnegating martyr mother in APGF to characters much interesting and complex and less obvious like Shepherd and Glynis Knacker in SMFT and of course Eva and Kevin Khatchadourian in WNTTAKI love slowly accumulating an understanding of an author and his or her work through reading and not all together and not in the right order his or her books Each of course stands on its own and yet each additional work I read also sheds light on each of the others creating a kind of kaleidoscopic and layered view of the work as a whole I realize this is a piercing glimpse into the obviousand yet it explains a lot of the reasons I loved this book By itself it was goodbut not great But understood together with others of her works it is much valuable Sometimes it's true this doesn't work for me and I'm just as likely to compare one to another of an author's works and say one is good and the other is bad or if I'm feeling generous an experiment that failed Maybe that will still happen to me as I read of Shriver But so farthey've all been pretty amazing I can't know whether I'd have LOVED APGF if I hadn't read the others firstbut it doesn't matter I'll keep reading

  5. says:

    A Perfectly Good Family 1996 Author Lionel Shriver Read 62419 Rating 355 A Perfectly Good Characters Study My eleventh book from Lionel Shriver If she isn't my favorite likely one of my most read authors One of Shriver's earlier efforts and it shows What do I mean by that? Pretentious language characters did not feel as relatable Felt far clinical than her later works like she was still finding the balance between journalism and creative writing But being Lionel Shriver maybe she is simply too smart for her own good Either way glad she changed her ways later on using words and vernacular that was not dumbed down per se but collouial and readable Reading this pretentious came to mind than once A thin plot with rich details tangents that were usually but not always interesting Alas the difficult to like characters and self righteousness an undertone in the entire novel Have always suspected this about Shriver and there are hints of it in her other works but her negative perceptions on middle class America are especially apparent albeit ostensibly opinions of her character Corlis self righteous tangents unlikeable characters rambling redundance All this being said Shiver kept things engaging enough to keep the pages turning and there were of course plenty of good and great aspects not least of which is her writing talent plain and simple Further Corlis McCrea might as well be Shriver as a young woman the autobiographical content included in this book is intriguing Shriver was born in Gastonia North Carolina in 1957; this is still the only book she has written set in her hometown Heck Andrews is a real life historical house in the Oakwood neighborhood in greater Raleigh She also was the only girl with two brothers A self proclaimed tomboy she aptly made it official via a name change from Margaret Ann at the young but dauntless age of fifteen She credits her father for having made her who she is today Dedicated and devout to what might be described as their ikigai Shriver's father was deeply religious a Presbyterian minister as opposed to Corlis's experience under the tutelage of her deeply political father a social rights activist and lawyer But even this makes perfect sense considering all the activism Shriver has been involved with throughout her life both personally and professionally Corlis's time living in London her resistance to returning home to North Carolina and eventual return to the United Kingdom a place she adores and where she feels most comfortable can easily be attributed to Shriver's own emigration to London where she resides to this day O Shriver Shriver Wherefore art thou great Shriver? Thine words hast still wooed This one is primarily a character study not only of Corlis but every one of her family members A refreshing aspect of Corlis's otherwise affected and stilted personality is her bluntness and zeal for saying things most would be afraid to even think this of course lends itself well to the analyzing and l overanalyzing of the people she thinks she knows well She is bold and brash and it's less that she is a particularly bad person then that she is willing to be upfront about what she does and feels rather than suffer in fraudulent denial like her mother did until the day she died Not going to lie she reminds me of me For example she unabashedly states that parents have favorites despite what they say She even draws out a scorecard for each of the four McCrea children documenting with surprising conviction how her mother and father would rank them Father ACLU Corlis Truman MordecaiMother Mordecai Truman Corlis ACLUTotal All tied She tells of a time her father said in all seriousness If I'd known at the time what he put me in your mother through I'd never have had my first born son The fact that he was not especially emotional at the time and said it unsolicited only made it that much worse She unapologetically describes how she has played both sides with her siblings her entire life even going so far as to impute her father's dictum that he wanted not pie or ice cream but pie with ice cream Primary themes addressed are inheritance family dynamics sibling psychology psychology of birth order and interestingly authenticity; how harmful living under a guise can be not only to your own life and satisfaction but also to those around you Most pertinent and prevalent is the sibling dynamics element Shiver handles this in detail and with great insight into the relationship intricacies the inevitability of comparisons competitions rivalries love hate is blood always thicker? Are we born into pre established roles in our families and do we ultimately remain the same in our ways or can we change them? Most refreshing and provocative however is Corlis's depiction of her late mother a woman who not only spent but devoted her life to appearances Once a gorgeous head turner she gained weight later in life but rather than do something about it she turns her displeasure into baking pies that she insists on feeding to everyone close to her despite resistance Extremely frugal but was never willing to admit it Harangued her children but most often passive aggressively or when gossiping about a sibling behind their back Took pains to comment ostensibly casually on how good things were as if trying to convince herself than anyone Cried ostentatiously when she didn't get her way Did things like knock without waiting for an answer and then innocently pretended to not understand what she did wrong even if it was the umpteenth time she had been advised of the answer Gushed to anyone and everyone how great her marriage was and how much she loved her husband most of all to her children It was true but her need to advertise it freuently and perpetually spoke to her own unrelenting fear that it wasn't or that it wouldn't last A complex psyche indeed Eugenia McCrea is but another demonstration of Shriver's undeniable dexterity when it comes to creating characters I feel like might be living right next doorstill honing her craft insightful psychology but sometimes too much Plenty of intriguing insights into families and siblings and flawed characters but difficult to look past the highbrow writing or else highbrow characters Even their names feel this way our sassy protagonist Corlis McCrea who has moved back to the Raleigh North Carolina area from London upon her mother Eugenia's death found in her room soaked amongst portraits of her husband Sturges who had been killed by a drink driver not that long ago We soon meet her younger brother Truman seen as a miluetoast still living at home taking care of his parents though he is married to a schoolteacher with a likewise unusual name Averil Then there is rebellious black sheep older brother Mordecai who left home as soon as he could and isn't exactly the nicest guy a bully of sorts who likes it; both Corlis and Truman are afraid of him Carrying on the tradition of unusual names when Truman and Averil have a son he is named Delano Adlai McCrea The ostensible plot of the novel centers around Corlis's critical decision by multiple definitions of the word Heck Andrews has been beueathed to the three children and the ACLU; none are willing to give up much and none have the funds to overpower the other three The two sons are long time enemies only speaking to each other when absolutely necessary and even then only with Corlis as liaison She must buy one brother out by teaming up with the other Will she choose The Bulldozer or The Tender Flower? Will she stand by her childhood alliances or prove that we aren't dictated by family roles? It's a love triangle the fact that it's not romantic but familial love doesn't make it any less true how we love them so but families bring out the worst with siblings all's fair Some good some bad; I read with compelled captivation only to become bored with another digression but would return again to have my interest renewed And then The ending What a disappointment I can see the pretty red bow on top So pretty I can't even call it predictable And from Shriver I expected so much better Spoilers She even added the maudlin car accident with emergency room trip and miracle survival Right on time the brothers start making up The Tender Flower tending to The Bulldozer now becoming less so in his disabled state With both brothers on board they easily win Heck Andrews outbidding the Asians who Corlis harps about with unconcealed racism pays the ACLU their fourth in the inheritance as laid out in their parent's will and the three McCrea siblings are finally all under a single roof again this being the first time since they were not yet teenagers and something none of them would have ever fathomed would happen In the end Corlis didn't have to choose I felt cheated All this suspense wondering who she would choose how the conseuences would affect the three of them Feels like it was all for naught Lionel you'll do better next time all was good enough until too tidy an end a deadline to meet? #Haibun #PoemReview #British #London #NorthCarolina #activism #auction #autobiographicalnovel #alcoholism #caraccident #caretaker #deathofparent #dysfunctionalfamily #hospital #houseascharacter #inheritance #lovetriangle #parenting #siblings #smalltown

  6. says:

    My sister gave me this book after I saw on goodreads that she had been reading it She had previously given me Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin well she'd given it to my mother but my mother was in the ICU on oxygen at the time and was in no position to fight when I stole it I did return it to mom after reading itwhich we both enjoyed very much When I saw she was reading this I asked what she thought and she said she was bored and never finished it but I could have it if I wanted I should have listened to me sister It was boring to start then it just got annoying The protagonist Corlis was so unlikeable but not one that you love to hate Just unlikeable I always find it precious and annoying when an American author writes about American characters living in the US and uses British English Granted this book was published in London so that offers explanation for the neighbours favourites and colours etc And granted the annoying Corlis had left North Carolina to live in London yet it still came across as pretentious and unnecessary Shriver seems to have an ex patriot's negative view of the US specifically middle class US and her premise in A Perfectly Good Family seems to be to negate Tolstoy's theory about every unhappy family being unhappy in its own way To her or to Corlis we are all much of the same and uninteresting to boot I should have listened to my sister Anyone want a book?

  7. says:

    Did I just give 3 stars to a book by Lionel Shriver? I did I finished this book because there are always good ideas in her books and the text is a trove of verbal nuggets BUT IMO Shriver was very much finding her voice in this novel which preceded the brilliant We Need To Talk About Kevin and it was a little awkward for me the diehard fan to witness Shriver's less steady writing The subject and themes and plot felt cheaper eg mass market fiction than what I'm accustomed to with Shriver but the book was lifted by her raw talent which was there just not anywhere close to as polished and crisp and taut as in Kevin and Post BirthdayAlso the ending caught me off guard I was reading on my Kindle and I now realize that for some reason the electronic version had a double copy of the book So I thought I was 50% of the way through the book when in fact I was at the end Not Shriver's fault but mentally I very much thought I was still in the middle and so when I began to suspect that she was tying together all the loose ends I was caught off guard And the ending itself regardless of the Kindle glitch was pretty crappy IMO very unsatisfying not credible too neat

  8. says:

    I picked this up because I really really liked We Need to Talk About Kevin which I think is the reason why a lot of people read it I usually can feel a fair amount of things to like in many of the books I read or at least appreciate but this one didn't do it for me It's funny because I usually enjoy the universal theme of neurotic people including families There are a lot of us neurotic people out there Unpleasant characters usually don't bother me either so it's strange that I didn't feel like there was much there there in this one There were a few good observations and turns of phrase that seemed worthy of noting for a little wisdom but not enough given the length of the book And the end ugh the end I thought the end really drove it home that I ultimately didn't like the book Two stars I mean I didn't hate it and obviously finished it But yeah not really one I would recommend

  9. says:

    Shriver is a decent writer but this book suffers from one big flaw it is boring Ok let's re state that it bores me I'm on page 59 and do not have the will to continue life is too short for that

  10. says:

    Corlis a 30 something would be sculptor has returned from the UK to her hometown Raleigh NC to join her two brothers in settling their dead parents' estate an estate that consists of little than a stately century old mansionA situation like that can cause tension in a family as heirs often have incompatible expectations What if one of them intends to continue living in that house as he has all his life? What if another wants the money that would come from a uick sale? What if nobody has enough money to settle with the others or enough income to take out a mortgage? And what if there's a fourth beneficiary—a nonprofit organization with aggressive lawyers—that both dilutes everyone's share and also demands immediate liuidation? This is the situation Corlis finds on arrivalSoon I was wondering if her unusual name is meant to suggest that she has no core because in telling the story she reveals a fundamental inability to choose between competing alternatives The problem began early in life when any attention she bestowed on one of her brothers was viewed as a favor withheld from the other That is most definitely still the case by the way Bring any adult siblings together again under the same roof and watch how the old dynamic reasserts itself Likewise despite having grown up in the American South she has cultivated an alternative identity as a Brit so that her narrative is peppered with terms like torch and car park and made redundant Everybody comments on her affected British accent which she accidentally spoils with the errant ya'llWhile living in the UK she had simultaneous relationships with two guys who upon discovering her infidelity destroyed all the pieces she'd sculpted That event on top of the recent death—the loss of what I had made and of what I was made from—prompts some soul searching She delves so deeply into analyzing the possible motivations of everyone involved that this reads like a memoir than a novel Most of the time everyone including Corlis and their dead parents sounds fairly despicable Younger brother Truman is a self righteous miluetoast who has led such a sheltered life that he's less savvy than the average ninth grader Older brother Mordecai is loud crude and intentionally obnoxious One is perpetually indignant but helpless and the other is perhaps maintaining a front to compensate for deep seated feelings of inferiority I wondered why any of them willingly persists in the toxic situation they're all perpetuating In Corlis's shoes I would have taken any of several occasions as a prompt to say Right you lot I'm out of hereIs everyone really as repellent as depicted? Corlis admits to herself that even she could be accurately described in such a way as to sound odious That seems to be an epiphany for her There are other such flashes notably her observation that someone who considers himself powerless can nevertheless wreak awful damageAt any rate Corlis cannot continue to sway indecisively between competing spheres of influence She has a decision to make and will need to be able to live with herself afterwards That is assuming events don't take another turn first There's a modicum of humor in at least one scene the one involving the TV but when all three siblings come together the interactions tend to evoke painI've said in other commentaries that I like it when authors show some benevolence toward their characters but that it has to be plausible In this story the conclusion feels as if the author had stopped the car and put it in reverse I mean it suddenly became a different story I'm glad it didn't turn out to be a tragedy but tragedy would have been the most realistic outcomeI've read several other Lionel Shriver novels This is my least favorite but I still admire what she does and hope to read them all in time