A Perfectly Good Family by Lionel Shriver was originally released in Great Britain in 1996. My Harper Collins paperback edition is a 2007 re-release and is 277 pages long. While not as memorable as her novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, this is still a very good book. You need to know that every character in A Perfectly Good Family is realistically flawed. In fact none of the characters are particularly likable at all, but much like any real family drama, what will happen in the end compels you to finish reading. A Perfectly Good Family is highly recommended
Following the death of her worthy liberal parents, Corlis McCrea moves back into her family's grand Reconstruction mansion in North Carolina, willed to all three siblings. Her timid younger brother has never left home. When her bullying black-sheep older brother moves into "his" house as well, it's war.
Each heir wants the house. Yet to buy the other out, two siblings must team against one. Just as in girlhood, Corlis is torn between allying with the decent but fearful youngest and the iconoclastic eldest, who covets his legacy to destroy it. A Perfectly Good Family is a stunning examination of inheritance, literal and psychological: what we take from our parents, what we discard, and what we are stuck with, like it or not.
Shriver continues to use her extensive vocabulary in order to employ the right word for everything. She is a masterful writer and I am in awe of that fact alone. In the back of my copy is information about Shriver written by Shriver. She says she is a pedant, She insists on correct word pronunciation and usage going so far to correct people, so she has no friends. Although I know she would find cause to correct me if we were to ever meet, I can't help but like her (from a distance) for revealing this annoying flaw.
"My mother crafted an emotion in front of herself, much the way I worked up a sculpture - patting here, smoothing the rough edges, and only presenting it when fashioned to her satisfaction, My experience of real feelings, however, is that they do not take shape on a turntable in view, but loom up behind, brutal and square, and heavily dangerous like a bag of unwedged clay hurtled at the back of your neck. Feelings for me are less like sculpture and more like being mugged."
" 'Then it hit me: Strauss, stale crackers, hard cheese, and guilty politics - this was Sturges McCrea's idea of a good time.'
That's when the idea first entered my head that my parents might be tiresome to other people."
"In truth, not I but Truman had become the family flagellant. Barring that unconvincing tirade about routering baseboards, Truman overflowed with stories, like one of Mother's spurned apple pie, that only illustrated his neglect. I knew them all by heart."
"Around Mordecai I am impressionable, acquiescent, soft. Around Truman I am caustic, canny, imperious. They have completely different sisters."
"In any family there may be one worm, a single wriggle of corruption from which every other foulness spreads, and in the McCrea case the source-lie was that my parents were happily married. The irony? They were happily married. They just didn't believe it. They were afraid that... it might not keep, and so they turned a perfectly serviceable relationship into a religion and thereby into a fraud."
"Maybe the sibling relationship was intrinsically penultimate; maybe all our alliances with each other were brief marriages of convenience, and we tread a thin crust over a boiling magma of rivalry, which could readily spit to the surface as outright hatred. Maybe the real marvel was that we ever got along at all."
"Outside rare blow-outs, our family was congenitally civil. That doesn't sound like such a curse until you consider that as a consequence we didn't know how to fight; that is, fight within limits. Families accustomed to airing grievances understand that even when things heat up the rules may change, that does not mean that there are no rules; another set slides in, with wider margins but margins all the same. But we were conflict amateurs... so that when we finally said what we were thinking all hell broke loose."