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Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
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A-FriendFamilyA creative writing teacher at Rutgers University, Lauren Grodstein is the author of two previous books: The Best of Animals (2004), a collection of short stories, and Reproduction Is the Flaw of Love (2005), a short novel.

The Story: As Dr. Pete Dizinoff awaits the verdict in a medical malpractice lawsuit, he broods over the events that have led to his personal and professional ruin. When his son Alec fails out of college and returns home to Round Hill, New Jersey, Pete fervently hopes that it is just a phase. But Alec soon falls under the spell of Laura Stern, the seductive 30-year-old daughter of Pete’s best friend. Laura was accused of a terrible crime when she was 17, and though the rest of Round Hill has forgiven and forgotten, Pete considers Laura a threat to the ambitions he has for Alec and vows to stop at nothing to keep them apart.
Algonquin Books. 304 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 9781565129160

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Grodstein’s sentences are finely made and precisely fitted to one another and her story, but she is not the sort of writer who sends sentences up like fireworks, showering us with polysyllabic sparks. No, the real pyrotechnics here are structural; nothing is extraneous or coincidental." David Thoreen

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"If college applications, crickets singing in cul-de-sacs, and long drives down elm-lined roads are the details of your life, this book will startle you with its familiarity. If you’ve only wondered what it would be like to live in Grodstein’s New Jersey, this book will show you, and if you’ve been a parent, a friend or anything other than a saint, you’ve already met its characters." Emily Carter

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Grodstein’s superb storytelling entices us to keep plunging deeper despite dread of an ominous undertow. … With writing fine as this, it is not oppressive to spend the entire book inside the narrator’s head, awash with shame, disappointed in his son, reassuring himself: that ‘everything I’ve ever done in my life—I’ve done it for him.’" Anne Grant

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Any parent who has stood by while a child makes bad choices can relate to Pete’s anguish, even when his paternal instincts go desperately, irrevocably awry. The novel is spot-on in its depiction of affection and jealousy among longtime friends; boozy suburban bashes; unrequited love; and adjusting to middle age." Patty Rhule

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Just as the 1987 film Fatal Attraction frightened many a man away from extramarital dalliances, so might this novel make a father think twice about micromanaging his son’s early adulthood. … A Friend of the Family is sometimes unsubtle. But a parent’s simultaneously well-meaning and toxic concern for a child is the finest and most nuanced aspect of the book." Holly Silva

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"What Grodstein captures so strikingly is the anxiety of a father’s love, that aching affection that can flip in a moment of panicked disappointment to full-blown disgust. … My single complaint concerns the novel’s needlessly scrambled structure." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

Critics were unanimous and unwavering in their praise for Grodstein’s third work of fiction—"an unqualified success," according to the Boston Globe—lauding her compelling and believable characters, superb storytelling skills, and sharp ear for dialogue. Grodstein is a "perceptive and knowing critic of suburbia" (Washington Post). Her depictions of upwardly mobile suburbanites are as incisive as her descriptions of their relationships—particularly those between parents and children—are achingly real. A few critics questioned Grodstein’s meandering stream-of-consciousness narration and her novel’s muddled sense of chronology, but they agreed that these were trivial complaints. The story of a loving father whose best intentions go horribly awry, A Friend of the Family is a gripping and powerful portrait of a family imploding under the pressure of filial devotion.