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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A family destroyed (and maybe saved?) by a tragedy: Family Life

What makes Akhil Sharma's Family Life so sorrowful and so strange is the seemingly disparate ways in which a tragic accident - older son essentially brain dead and blind as a result of a swimming-pool accident - can both save and destroy a  family. As narrated by the now adult younger (10 to 12 years old) brother, we see the parents and the younger brother devote their entire lives (and savings) to the round-the-clock care of the older brother. W/ the insurance settlement they buy a modest NJ house and move the brother from a drab nursing home into a room of his own - fittingly the converted living room of the house - and it seems that the caretaking is an all-consuming obligation. In some ways, it brings the family together - some very sweet scenes as the younger brother gently teases older brother, calling him Fatso and Smelly and kidding that he must be getting up at night and raiding the refrig. The older brother cannot react in any way - but they're desperately trying to include him. Mother and son play a round of cards, dealing the older brother "in" and playfully cheating, stealing his cards, acting as if he's participating - as if he even knows what's happening. But this is by no means a sweet family story. As all this goes on, the younger brother hears the parents arguing about money - which is running out - and the father driven further into alcoholism - and the mother inviting various religious crackpots over to try their miracle cures (none seem to charge anything - they're all part of the culture of Indian immigrants in the NYC area - it's both comforting and smothering how the Indian community tries to help out this beleaguered family). All this Sharma tells in his crisp and shrewd narrative style, getting a surprising amount of humor out of the situation. Not sure if this novel will "go" anywhere, as the plot almost by definition is quite static - but it's an excellent portrait of a family in distress, at the mercy of fortune and fate.

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