Taking the proverbial busman’s holiday, I recently read the novel “A Perfectly Good Family,” by Lionel Shriver. The book was about what happens when three siblings inherit the family “mansion” in Raleigh, North Carolina, after the death of their parents. The father was a “great man” character, a judge and civil rights advocate, the mother was the typical woman behind the man of her era, the oldest son was a rebel and bully, the youngest son was the obedient one who never left home and took care of the mother during her last illness; and the middle daughter (and narrator) shared characteristics of each of her brothers.
The mother’s will leaves the home to the three siblings to share equally with the parents’ so-called “fourth child,” the ACLU. Because the ACLU wants cash and none of the siblings can afford to buy them out on their own, all of the old sibling rivalries resurface as each child maneuvers to get what he or she wants.
I enjoyed recognizing many of the character traits of my own family and of my client families that I have seen over the years. We are all more alike than we know. The novel’s examination of one’s “inheritance” from all angles: monetary, physical, psychological, literal – was useful to help me better empathize with my clients, but others with less interest in the subject matter may find it a bit boring. The author has a good literary reputation, but this is one of her earlier works. Critics say her later books are better written, but she does have good insight into the human condition, which comes across in this entertaining novel. If you decide to read it, be sure to let me know what you think.