A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein

Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

A Friend of the Family
304 pages; Algonquin
How far will we go—and how nuts will we get—when we imagine we're protecting our children? Meet Pete Dizinoff, New Jersey suburbanite, internist, and protagonist of Lauren Grodstein's novel A Friend of the Family, who's now living, because of something fairly dire that he's done, in the furnished room above his garage. He's galled by a son who against all odds has refused to succeed—a son who failed out of a college that doesn't even give grades—a son he believes he has endlessly coddled, and on whom he has pinned his inchoate hopes. In the past he comforted himself with the notion that he was at least better off than his best friends, whose daughter some years back was accused of killing her own baby and stuffing it in a trash can. What to do when his son falls for this same girl?

Pete's a textbook unreliable narrator, and his story is a persuasive indictment of a certain kind of privileged narrow-mindedness that's incapable of recognizing itself as such. In his amiable way, Pete judges everyone and assumes that his decision to keep such judgments to himself demonstrates how generous-minded he can be. He's confused the person he'd most hoped to be with the person he is, and in the best tradition of parenting gone catastrophically awry, he's insisted on viewing his selfishness as its opposite. He's an unsettling poster boy for the entitlement felt by an intrusive parent, and the agonies that often result for all concerned.
— Jim Shepard