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A Perfectly Good Family by Lionel Shriver

Given the recent successes of Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin and The Post Birthday World, it's not surprising that her international publishers have released her earlier novel, A Perfectly Good Family

First published in 1996, A Perfectly Good Family focuses on the fallout of a family will for the McCreas of North Carolina.

Told from the perspective of Corlis, the middle child torn between two bickering brothers, A Perfectly Good Family is exactly what you'd expect from a Shriver novel: sardonic, intelligent and brutally honest. 

Don't be fooled by the cover; this isn't chick lit.  Shriver casts a somewhat bleak eye over the wheeling and dealing McCrea family: the greedy and selfish eldest son Mordecai who has his eye firmly on the prize; the insipid and cautious youngest son Truman, who has an emotional attachment to the only home he's ever known. 

Then there's Corlis, divided between protecting the younger Truman and worshipping the estranged Moredecai.

Shriver drew from her personal experiences growing up in a conservative family in Raleigh, North Carolina in writing this book. At fifteen she changed her name from Margaret Ann to Lionel. In the endnotes (recently added to accompany the new edition), Shriver admits the book upset members of her family.  I can't say I'm surprised.

The McCreas are so detailed, their flaws laid bare on the page and at times A Perfectly Good Family becomes an uncomfortable read. 

In delivering a thorough examination of her characters - warts and all - Shriver risks alienating her readers as quite frankly, none of the McCrea's are particularly likeable. Rarely have I met a grimier character than Moredecai, with his yellowed skin, tinted glasses and greasy long braids. 

However the quality of Shriver's writing makes this book worth the effort.  Her descriptions, her dialogue and her observations on the darker side of human nature linger in the memory long after the final chapter is finished. 

The subject matter calls for honesty and Lionel Shriver meets it head on.  That alone makes A Perfectly Good Family worth the read.  

A Perfectly Good Familiy by Lionel Shriver
RRP $26.99
Release date: Now
Published by: Harper Collins