Lonely Thanksgiving: Three books about families crazier than yours
Editor's note: Thanksgiving. A time for the entire family to gather around the table, smiling and laughing over a golden turkey as if life is just one big Publix commercial. Fortunately, some people actually get that experience. But many others don't. Maybe you and your family live in totally different states. Maybe you just don't have a family. Maybe you have chosen a family of friends. Or maybe you just don't want to talk to your family at all. We got you covered. All week, we're bringing you our Guide to Lonely Thanksgiving. Our critics and writers have offered their best advice for going the holiday alone, from TV to reading to eating out. It doesn't have to be a pity party. If you do it right, you can be thankful for your solitude, too.
When I've spent holidays alone and felt either blue (because I really wanted to be with my wonderful family) or cranky (because I chose not to be with my annoying family), the last thing I've wanted is some uplifting book to tell me to keep my chin up and/or dissolve in sentimental tears.
What's tonic, I've found, is to read about someone else's family — not some unbearably perky Sound of Music tribe but a family that is so bizarre, so wild, even so downright mean that their adventures make me gasp, howl with laughter and snort my beverage of choice right through my nose. Of course, for such a book you need a terrific writer, a writer good enough to tell those familial tall tales with just the right combination of ruthless humor, measured exaggeration and underlying empathy.
Tall order, but one excellent example is Mary Karr's 1995 bestseller The Liar's Club. Penguin Classics has just published a handsome 20th anniversary edition with an introduction by Lena Dunham, but any copy will do. The story of Karr's East Texas childhood, told in her sardonic deadpan, is a comic masterpiece. It opens with a house fire that introduces the cast. There's the family pet, Nipper, "a sullen dog trained to drink beer and bite strangers." There's Karr's larger-than-life daddy, who counsels his kids, "If the sheriff comes by here, you just tell him you ain't seen me in a few days." And there's Karr's mother, who racks up seven marriages despite (or maybe because) she suffers from what's called being Nervous: "I should explain here," Karr writes, "that in East Texas parlance the term Nervous applied with equal accuracy to anything from chronic nail-biting to full-blown psychosis."
Once you've followed the Karr clan's adventures, your own family will likely look just about normal. Other books in a similar vein include Gary Shteyngart's Little Failure, an uproariously funny memoir about growing up in a Russian immigrant family in Queens, and just about anything by David Sedaris, although Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim offers the most family-centric dose of his wry humor writing.