If family is a machine for making you crazy, has there ever been a machine better oiled than the Lamberts? The elderly father, Alfred, is a retired railway engineer sliding into the mental and physical chaos of Parkinson’s disease. Wife Enid fashions ever more ingenious varieties of denial. Son Chip is helping con men in Lithuania. His brother Gary is consoling himself with booze for the miseries of his own disintegrating home life. Their sister Denise, in the time she can spare from her career as a celebrity chef, makes reckless thrusts into other people’s marriages. Their miseries are an opening onto the larger discontents of the society that they—we—live in, but Franzen keeps his terrible focus on the family. This can be a very funny book in places, but the laughs come hard, very hard.
Next The Crying of Lot 49