35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Reading "A Perfectly Good Family" by Lionel Shriver with a ghastly fascination I felt as if I were watching something so private, so complicated and so human that I was embarrassed to be a voyeur into the McCrea family lives.
Getting to know each of the three adult children who have to sort out their responses to an unexpectedly challenging situation following their parents' deaths was creepily interesting and ultimately rewarding. When you get a handle on the character of the narrator Corlis you realise that anything could happen.
Lionel Shriver gives us glimpses of Corlis when she lived in London where her ménage a trois foreshadows the Janus like way in which she behaves towards her older and younger brothers.
With these two very different men; Trueman and Mordecai, together with the `Fourth Child" which is their parent's named charity bequest; the Heck-Andrews house, that has intriguingly also a beguiling character of it's own; needs fresh ownership arrangements.
Sorting through their parents effects sparks off varied reminiscences to the point the reader gets to know all too well what kind of family the McCreas were in their prime. I loved the scene when the freezer is cleared out. It rang so very true. Unravelling the allegiances, fantasies and personal visions of the way things were is hauntingly sad and therapeutic.
I enjoyed this book immensely for the family story it contains but feel that were I from the USA I would get even more from it as the references are densely everyday cultural ones for Americans, more alien to a UK readership.
It is interesting that some of our authors are not well received in the USA and are not offered publication but we perhaps more tolerantly read so much that is not familiar, in the way of food references, fashion, politics and manners. Even if we have never been to the USA we feel as though we know it, sometimes it feels as if we are reading in a foreign language, although over the years of reading their books we have absorbed so much of their way of doing things.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 2011
As a massive fan of 'Kevin' I was really disappointed by this self indulgent novel. It tried too hard, the characters didn't feel authentic. This was my choice for our book club and I felt I had to apologise for it. Not one member really enjoyed it. However I have to say that it inspired the most debate of any of our choices to date, not so much about the novel, but about the issues of inheritance that it it raises.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 14 November 2009
Families are funny things. WE can moan about them all we like to our mates, but stand up for them with grit if anyone else pipes up. So I can't fathom why someone would want to publicly explore a family which is very close to their real-life set -up.I couldn't deal with the indignation, or the letters or the silence which the author recieved when her family read this.
Although totally engaging, the characters in this are flawed and unsympathetic, which is how real people are innit? Corlis infuriated me, with her lack of decisiveness, as did Trueman - a grown up who was whinier than a teething baby. Eldest brother Mordecai was spot on for the time - all long plaits, meat and grunge - and reminded me of many men I've met who desperately try to be provocative in order to hide the softness underneath.
The idea that adults feel like they are entitled to their parents belongings no matter what fascinates me. If someone leaves you something fair enough, but to ffeel liek you;re owed just because you exist is madness. So the central story grabbed me from the outset, although I really wanted at least one the chracaters to realise they were not entitled.
I loved the way she spun this - from an interesting premise, past arguments and grudges right up to the unexpected ending - and whilst this may not be the most flattering portrait of families , it was honest and unflinching, funny and embarrassing, just the like the best families.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2009
Having thoroughly enjoyed other books by Lionel Shriver, notably the excellent '...Kevin', I bought this with enthusiasm and was quite disappointed. Although it is well written and has memorable characters and a few memorable lines which have stayed with me, I felt it was a bit slow overall and nothing I cared about really happened.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2009
It is ludicrous that more of Lionel Shriver's earlier books aren't in print in the UK and this, I guess, is where Amazon comes into its own! If you like her style and topics (and I do), this is a very interesting take on family life: in that case the adult siblings working out what to do about the family home they have jointly inherited. Bits seemed unrealistic to me, but the style is one readers of 'Kevin' and the 'Post-birthday world' will recognise. In the same way as both of these it makes me think about myself in similar situations (thankfully not one I've had to face yet) hope that my brother and I will acquit ourselves better when the time comes!! At least Shriver's fairly negative (or at least far from rose-tinted) views of family life, families leave some room for optimism in thinking about my own family!
on 16 February 2014
When I suggested A Perfectly Good Family to my reading circle, it was because I had admired the writing of Lionel Shriver in We Need to Talk about Kevin. Looking through her titles, I thought inheritance would be a safer option than that notorious book, and, because despite being riveted by We need to talk …’, I doubt if I could read it a second time.
The book tells the story of two brothers - macho slob, Mordecai and wimpish perfectionist, Truman - and a sister, Corlis, or Corrie Lou, who together with a worthy charity, inherit their parents’ home. Each of the brothers wants to own the house and buy out the other one, but they can only do this with the help of their sister.
A Perfectly Good Family was written before We need to talk …,’ and, at first sight, the prose did not seem to me so sparkling; in fact occasionally the sentences seemed a bit rambling and incomprehensible. Also, there were too many Americanisms for me. These were observations I made at about the half way point, but my main problem was not the above, but the fact that the story had not moved very far at that stage, even though we had learned quite a lot about the main protagonists.
In an article, Lionel Shriver describes the similarities to her own family, for example, the action takes place in North Carolina, where she was raised, and like the protagonists, she is the only girl sandwiched between two brothers. Her parents, though alive, have similarities to the fictional dead parents in their liberal politics and other attributes.
So although this is a piece of fiction, the relationships are based on truth and as result of that, I think there is a problem with having a great deal of information on the subject matter. Like any sort of research or pot of knowledge, it’s tempting to include too much of it. So I am wondering if Lionel Shriver got carried away, when describing her own family and was so busy setting the scene that she forgot about the plot.
There were characteristics which were horribly familiar to me - the obsessive recycling of sheets of aluminium foil, for example, which I’m sure were drawn from life - and they were amusing, but perhaps, a bit too much of them.
At first sight, the brothers, although very different, are both unappealing in different ways, and the narrator has also some unpleasant ways. Only when the brothers are reconciled and Corri Lou is honest with them, did I get to like them all more.
This is a story of family dynamics and not only describes sibling rivalry, but also a kind of emotional incestuousness, with both brothers vying for attention and affection from their sister, while she both welcomes and is put into a state of divided loyalty by that affection.
The story takes off once the siblings start battling over their inherited house, and the real action begins about half way through with the Christmas dinner from hell. The various events that follow keep the interest from flagging.
I found the book interesting, but I think my next Shriver will probably be post Kevin. I would probably give it 3.5 stars.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2011
This plods along a bit but all the threads start to tighten up in the last 70 pages or so, and I was surprised to find myself quite moved as the story played out, especially as I had actively considered giving this one up at several points along the way. Lionel Shriver certainly has a gift for unreliable, and unlikeable, narrators.
Not sure I'd really recommend this, and it is not a patch on We Need To Talk About Kevin - but then not many books are. If you like the sort of thing that Anne Tyler does really well then you may find this enjoyable/absorbing.