The problem with building a book around a big reveal in the latter third of a novel is that inevitably readers are going to be disappointed. When a character refuses to discuss what is bugging them the most you begin to think it’s something heinous, when it turns out to be not so heinous it’s a let down.
This is the only problem with Lauren Grodstein’s A Friend of the Family, the big reveal is a big dud. Thankfully, the journey to the reveal is entertaining enough that the disappointment is more of an “eh, who cares?” rather than an “are you fucking kidding me?”
What Grodstein has done with this novel is created a character with his head so far up his own ass that you kind of revel in his down fall. Pete Dizinoff is a fifty-something rich, internist in some hoity toity New Jersey suburb. He’s got English professor wife, a rebellious twenty-something son, Alec, and a life that is falling down around his ears.
We learn early on that Pete’s estranged from his family and living above the garage in Alec’s art studio, he hasn’t talked to his best friend, Joe, in a year, and that he’s about to learn the outcome of some sort of legal proceeding. But, like I said, the outcome is beside the point, what’s important is how Pete got to his point.
Pete tells us his story by flittering back and forth through his own personal history. We learn how he met his wife, how he was responsible for hooking his best friend Joe up with Iris, how he always had a thing for Iris. We learn, pretty early on, that Joe and Iris’ teenage daughter, Laura, gave birth three-months early in the bathroom of a library, killed the newborn, and stuffed its body in the garbage.
Pete has a hard time coping with the event, especially when thirty-year-old Laura who has been spirited away after a lengthy stay in a mental hospital returns to the suburbs and becomes involved with his twenty-year-old son. This, of course, seems logical right? But Pete’s nearly obsessed with Laura and even more obsessed with his son Alec. It borders on creepy.
When Pete unravels his story you begin to see that he’s not all he initially portrayed himself to be. And what we really learn is that you can’t hide who you are no, matter how hard you try. Pete tells us he’s a liberal, do-gooder doctor, but what he shows us about himself is the exact opposite. It’s fascinating.
The storytelling here is so awesome that by the time you get to the disappointing reveal it barely even register because the journey there was so good.