One of the wonderful things about reading a book with a book pal, is the coming together of thoughts and feelings about a story. While Jan and often often agree on the merits on a book, there are times when we see things a bit differently. We decided to read A Nearly Normal Family to see if we indeed had found the perfect family thriller. Unfortunately, we did not find what we were hoping to.
A man is brutally murdered and Stella, an 18 yr. old teenager is the accused. This slow burn domestic drama is told in three parts, narrated by each member of Stella’s nuclear family. Adam, the father, is an over-controlling pastor, Ulrika, the mother, is a criminal defense attorney who is largely emotionally and physically absent, and Stella is the rebellious teenage daughter.
I liked how each member had their own section instead of switching POV each chapter. But, from the start, something felt off about the writing style, with awkward, choppy sentences. I assumed it was a problem with the translation and decided to continue on.
The blurb says the family’s moral compass is tested as they must decide how far they will go to protect their child. A nearly normal family? Not in my world. This was a totally messed up dysfunctional family where the parents have checked out, excused all bad behavior, and allowed their daughter to do whatever she wanted, including dating/spending the night with a 33 year old man. From what I could see they didn’t have a moral compass to test.
Then the story switched to Stella’s POV. I loathe teen narrations that are filled with drama and angst. And this has a LOT of drama and angst. The only thing I liked about this section is she discovers a love of reading while in prison.
The third section was told from the mother’s POV and covers the trial. I love courtroom drama but felt this was boring. Instead of being nuanced, it was angsty and repetitive. The ending was telegraphed from the very beginning so nothing was much of a surprise. And of course a hot button social issue is thrown in for good measure to explain everything.
Then there’s the writing. Here are a few examples:
“As if on a bridge spanning the shit that has happened, through a tunnel of brilliant streaming light, I dive right into Stella’s arms.” (….my eyes rolled out of my head)
“I stick to her body like a Band-aid.” (isn’t that an appealing visual?)
“Her hair was wildly mussed like a black halo that had fallen down around her neck.” (huh???)
If these examples appeal to you, then you will enjoy the book more than I did. I found it stilted, awkward and boring.
It happens to me every so often that because I hate the characters in a book, I also hate the book. I can’t say it happened in this story, even though the three main characters were abhorrent. The father was a helicopter dad who seemed more interested in the thrill of spying on his daughter than doing anything about her alarming behaviors. The mother, took up a laissez faire attitude and let her daughter go about her days unsupervised and unrestricted. It’s easier to be absent as a parent than be present in the life of a child going wrong. The daughter, had all the personalities often mentioned in the annals of a sociopath journal, and as a teenager, allowed freedoms that most sensible parents would never allow as she proceeded to embark on a pathway to disaster.
I believe, in a way, this book was a cautionary tale to parents who deny there is a problem even when they are alerted by professionals and take up an attitude that they seem to think is progressive. It’s a story of what can and does go wrong and how parents in their zeal to cover up lose all their own respectability and moral compass.
While I liked the book a bit more than Jan, I did feel that the writing was like the beat of a metronome, very flat and staccato. I, like Jan, thought perhaps it was in the translation that this story lost its punch. For me this was a good way to while away a seven hour journey and being a captive audience added to the lackluster allure of this book. Others have really liked this book, however sadly for me it was just a mediocre story
We both agreed that sometimes a review that is not glowing can be a valuable tool.