What to Read When You Need to Understand Corrupt Families


This week, America got a glimpse at the depths of the Trump family’s depravity. In summary: Donald Trump Jr. tried to collude with the Russians, failed, and then failed to cover his tracks. His father (our president) tweeted that it’s “the greatest Witch Hunt [sic] in political history.” Meanwhile, Ivanka has her own problems to contend with but is headed out of town with her husband, and sister Tiffany is living it up abroad.

It’s all so laughably awful, but for the fact that, you know, the actual fate of our Republic is at risk. As we wait for this latest crisis-slash-scandal to shake out, here is a list of great books about terrible families.


The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong by Leland Cheuk
A laugh-out-loud black comedy about a dysfunctional family that has endured almost every major injustice in Asian-American history, but can’t endure each other


The Middlesteins by Jamie Attenberg
An epic story of marriage, family, and obsession that explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.


Everything is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell
Bell revisits her childhood home in remote Northern California after her mother’s home, car, and belongings are suddenly swallowed up by a fire. Acknowledging her issues with anxiety, financial hardships, memories of a semi-feral childhood, and a tenuous relationship with her mother, she helps her mother put together a new home on top of the ashes.


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Rose Edelstein bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions. To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair. Soon, she’s privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden: her father’s detachment, her mother’s transgression, her brother’s increasing retreat from the world. But there are some family secrets that even her cursed taste buds can’t discern.


The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old-world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the US.


Salvage the Bones Jesmyn Ward
As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family—motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to face another day.


The Blue Hour by Jennifer Whitaker
Fairy tales both familiar and obscure create a threshold, and The Blue Hour pulls us over it. With precise language and rich detail, these poems unflinchingly create an eerie world marked by abuse, asking readers not just to bear witness but to try to understand how we make meaning in the face of the meaningless violence.


One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Marquez
The story of the rise and fall, birth and death of a mythical town of Macondo, told through the history of the Buendia family. If you somehow haven’t read this yet, now is a good time.


The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Lamberts are a troubled family living in a troubled age. Stretching from the Midwest in the mid-century to Wall Street and Eastern Europe in the age of globalised greed, The Corrections brings an old-time America of freight trains and civic duty into wild collision with the era of home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental healthcare, and New Economy millionaires.


The Bible
Is any book filled with more examples of crazy families? We think not.


If We Were Birds by Erin Shields
Erin Shields’s award-winning play is a shocking, uncompromising examination of the horrors of war, giving voice to a woman long ago forced into silence, and placing a spotlight on millions of female victims who have been silenced through violence, delivered through the lens of Greek tragedy.


Omeros by Derek Walcott
A poem in five books, of circular narrative design, titled with the Greek name for Homer, which simultaneously charts two currents of history: the visible history charted in events—the tribal losses of the American Indian, the tragedy of African enslavement—and the interior, unwritten epic fashioned from the suffering of the individual in exile.


King Lear by William Shakespeare
King Lear depicts the gradual descent into madness of its title character, after he disposes of his kingdom giving bequests to two of his three daughters based on their flattery of him, bringing tragic consequences for all.


On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The story of an interracial family living in the university town of Wellington, Massachusetts, whose misadventures in the culture wars—on both sides of the Atlantic—serve to skewer everything from family life to political correctness to the combustive collision between the personal and the political.


The Ice Storm by Rick Moody
As a freak winter storm bears down on an affluent suburb in Connecticut, cars skid out of control, men and women swap partners, and their children experiment with sex, drugs, and even suicide. Here two families, the Hoods and the Williamses, come face-to-face with the seething emotions behind the well-clipped lawns of their lives.