Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book #13 of 2010

"Real Life & Liars" by Kristina Riggle

The Zielinskis, the dysfunctional family of Riggle's delightful debut, have some problems, even if things at Mirabelle and Max's 35th anniversary party—thrown by their three adult children—at first seem peachy. Soon, though, the cracks appear: daughter Katya's stuck in a loveless marriage and saddled with three bratty kids. Son Ivan's a struggling songwriter who falls for all the wrong girls, and the youngest daughter, Irina, is a free-spirited 21-year-old, knocked up by a man twice her age. There's just no more room in their lives for another problem, but Mirabelle has a secret—she's dying of breast cancer.
I came at this book with a bias -- I went to college with the author and we worked at the school paper together. That is part of the reason I held off on reading it for so long -- what if I hated it? Fortunately, I didn't hate the book. At the start, I felt like the characters were too stereotypical -- the hippie professor, the distracted writer, the Type A first born, the unloved middle child (imagine "Jan" from The Brady Bunch) and the free-spirited youngest. It bothered me until I realized that by presenting these stereotypical characters, Riggle made it easier for all of us to relate to them. I particularly liked her dual use of the first person and third person narratives - something that took me a bit to get used to but worked really well. Like other reviewers, it was nice to see the book not end neatly tied up. Lately it seems like most new novels want to end with a neatly tied bow. And as Riggle points out that is not "real life" and those who pretend it is are just "liars".

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