So You Think Your Family is Dysfunctional...

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“Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts.” – Anonymous

It’s that time of year again! In the next couple of days you and your family will gather around the dinner table. You will play the piano, sing carols, and eat a huge holiday meal with mom’s famous mashed potatoes.  Does this sound like your favorite Christmas movie and not your family? Is your family dysfunctional beyond all belief? Are the holidays a time of year you dread the most? Want to feel better about the cougar aunt who keeps hitting on your husband, your racist with a strong political view in-laws, the grandma with the verbal diarrhea and possibly actual diarrhea, your neurotic, slightly narcissistic mother, your clearly less successful than you brother who drinks slightly too much or any other crazy family member with whom you unfortunately share the same blood?

If my warm and fuzzy holiday post  isn’t what you are in the mood for given your personal situation, then pull up a chair, a blanket, and probably a bottle of your favorite alcoholic beverage.  This top five list of some of my favorite dysfunctional families in literature is the cure.  Let’s laugh together at people who have it worse than you.  Though usually frowned upon during the holiday season, don’t worry, I’ll give you a pass.  And yes, most are fictional characters. But somewhere out there, someone is living these stories. I’ve seen enough Jerry Springer and Maury to know.

1.         Hamlet by William Shakespeare

So your aunt (insert any other female/male family member who wants to relive her or his youth) is a cougar. The flirting is incessant and the inappropriate remarks hit an all-time high every holiday.  You fantasize about covering the perpetrator in cranberry sauce every time it happens. Think you have it bad?

It could be worse. Hamlet learns his father is dead and his mother has married her dead husband’s brother. Get that? His mother married his uncle. All of a sudden cousins become siblings and well – it can get messy. As if it can’t get any worse for him, Hamlet’s father’s ghost appears and begs him to get revenge on the man who killed him. And, guess who that would be? Yep, his new step-daddy. You think you have problems? If you want to feel better about the cougar aunt who hits on your husband, this classic read is a definite eye-opener. She could be marrying him! Put down the knife – that’s for carving the turkey.

 2.         Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

I know you can’t be surprised he is on this list twice. Shakespeare holds the blueprint for messed up families. You’re thinking how will this help me? It will because the familial drama is the backdrop to this well-known love story. 

The Montagues and the Capulets hate each other. And not just in a “ahh I can’t stand him” type of way, but that deep, ingrained “I wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire” way. Which is why they go to such lengths to keep Romeo and Juliet apart.  Do you hate your in-laws? Do you wish them dead with the fiery passion of a thousand suns? Would you rather see them dead then get your grandmother’s collection of lucky doilies? If you said yes, please see number 5 and my comments about sociopathic tendencies. If you said no, then yay you are more well-adjusted than most of your family members.  Be grateful and remember Romeo & Juliet when the in-laws start with their ignorance.

3.         Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

This one…oh this one. I read it at a very young age when I probably shouldn’t have been reading anything so dark.  Chris and Cathy Dollanganger. Nicknamed the Doppelganger twins. Beautiful, blonde, young…and stuck in an attic for years with their other two siblings. Why you ask? Because mommy put them there and grandma is keeping them there.

This book has it all: religious fanaticism, incest, murder, and poisoned donuts. Their grandmother is the stuff of nightmares and I can never get the description of her pouring tar in Cathy’s hair (to make her brother Chris cut it) out of my head.  When grandma is spewing her verbal diarrhea, think to yourself “well I could be stuck in an attic and she could be feeding me actual poison instead of just verbal poison.” See? Perspective.

4.         Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

There you are. Sitting across from your mother who grills you for the umpteenth time over the dried out Christmas turkey.  Why haven’t you found a nice girl (or boy) to marry? Or if you are dating or married, “when are you two thinking about getting married/having children….the well runs dry you know.” “Why can’t you think of me? Don’t you know I want grandchildren!” You think “ugh no one has it this bad.” You would be wrong.

Running with Scissors is a twisted tale of dysfunctional American family life. I don’t know what’s more dysfunctional in this book. The mother with her psychotic episodes or the Finch family who Augusten is sent to live with after his mother abandons him to work on her sexuality and herself.  Dr. Finch was his mother’s psychiatrist and the family is not normal. Dr. Finch has biological and adopted children who apparently have complete autonomy over themselves. They can do what they want, when they want, including having sex, smoking cigarettes and marijuana, and basically telling the world F-U. The house is dirty and crawling with cockroaches.

Nothing is maintained in the home, including the minds and hearts of the children.  Next time your mother is interrogating you about your personal life; take it as a sign she cares at least a little bit. She could have left you to go running with scissors.

5.         We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Mothers, would you ever not love your children? How about if he or she were a sociopath, or better yet, the perpetrator in a school massacre? We Need to Talk About Kevin is every parent’s worst nightmare. You have children hoping you don’t drive off one day and leave them on top of the car by accident. You imagine them doing great things and becoming successful, but not blinding their siblings, killing little animals or having an abnormal obsession with archery.

This creepy, and let’s face it, heartbreaking book is told from the perspective of the mother in letters.  Her descriptions and horror at realizing she lacks maternal instincts and then in her realization that her child may be a little unstable will haunt you for a while.  So when the brother, who clearly didn’t live up to his potential, is breathing that stinky sewage smell in your face and making your mom cry. Imagine the Khatchadourian’s conversation over the mashed potatoes and green bean casserole at Christmas dinners.

Know a dysfunctional family in literature? Should we expand the list? Please share! Follow me on Twitter @TheBookaholicBee or comments below are always appreciated!

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