A Perfectly Good Family is by Lionel Shriver, who also wrote We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Lionel Shriver seems to specialise in stories about dysfunctional families. We Need to Talk About Kevin is chilling. I read it years ago, and while I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, the horror of the story certainly stuck in my head. A Perfectly Good Family is about an equally dysfunctional family, although in there favour, they are not psychopaths.
The story is narrated by Corlis, an unsuccessful artist in her thirties, who has been living in England. Corlis comes home to North Carolina when her mother dies, for the funeral and for her inheritance. Corlis and her two brothers, Mordecai and Truman have been left a quarter of their family home, with the remaining quarter being left to a good cause, in this case, the ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union.
In an interview with the author at the back of the edition I read, Lionel Shriver said that she modeled the family home in A Perfectly Good Family on a real house, the Heck-Andrews House in Raleigh, North Carolina. The actual house is a Reconstruction Mansion, built about 150 years ago, and has been vacant for decades. The interior is in a derelict condition, although some money has been spent restoring and maintaining the facade.
The siblings have an uneasy relationship. Underneath all of their bickering and fighting, they love each other, but when Corlis moves back into the family home, Truman, who has never left home, becomes resentful. Although Truman has married, and he and his bland wife, Averil, have the third floor and the dovecot, his main gripe is that he has been looking after their controlling, demanding and difficult mother for years, maintaining the house and keeping things ticking over, while Corlis and Mordecai been off having a good time.
When Mordecai moves back in to the house too, the family’s relationships become even move complicated. Mordecai is a hard drinking, three times married slob, who walks all over Truman. (Truman could be described as ‘passive-aggressive’). Corlis, who has spent her whole life taking sides with one or the other of her brothers, is put upon by Truman and Mordecai to take out a mortgage with them, to buy the house from the other brother. (My mother always says never to have three children, because two will always gang up on one. Possibly Lionel Shriver’s mother told her this too, which then formed the basis of this story).
While I enjoyed A Perfectly Good Family, I wish I had read this author’s books in order of her writing them. This is a perfectly good story, but I think Lionel Shriver’s writing has gotten better as she has gone along and it is difficult to compare earlier works with the later books.