Recs for fiction, memoirs about healing family estrangement
February 22, 2018 1:34 PM   Subscribe

CW: trauma, alcoholism, abuse (nothing graphic) Looking for comforting, validating, or revealing fiction, memoirs, or stories dealing with repairing relationships after abuse. Snowflakes within...

I’m dealing with fallout from an alcoholic, abusive upbringing. There was one alcoholic, but everyone participated in the abuse (so multiple abusers and victims). 13 years ago I escaped that family, moved far away, and recently married a wonderful person. I went low contact with most of my family of origin.

I long to repair my relationships with some of my family members in my family of origin. Particularly my mother and brother. I have reasons to hope for the best, but am still full of doubts, too.

I am seeking works of fiction, memoirs, stories about repairing relationships (or trying and failing to repair them—doesn’t have to be a “happy” ending necessarily) *particularly* familial relationships. Also good would be recommendations for stories that may validate or comfort me. No self help or how tos, please. I am in therapy so that is covered for now.

Much appreciation. <3
posted by shalom to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I am an ACoA and a memoir fan.

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi -- author is estranged from her father for many years. Father was not an alcoholic but violent and narcissistic. Author reconnects with her father when he undergoes sex-change surgery in his seventies. This book is a fascinating read on identity, dysfunctional family dynamics, the plight of Jews in Hungary during WWII, and the Holocaust.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me --Sherman Alexie's story of growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. His mother is a recovering alcoholic and his father is deep in drink and never recovered. His mother, while sober, is basically a dry drunk. Alexie had long periods in his life where he did not speak to his mother. This book is a stream of consciousness at times. Sherman Alexie is still very much in pain and deeply affected. I wouldn't recommend it for a tale of transcendence.

Scream: A Memoir of Glamour and Dysfunction by Tama Janowitz -- Tama's father is a self-absorbed, dysfunctional, womanizing, unethical pothead who doesn't treat Tama very well. Regardless, Tama seems to approach their relationship with maturity. (Her brother isn't too nice either.) Highly entertaining book about a woman who has personal and family struggles but is probably the healthiest of the dysfunctional crew.

An Abbreviated Life by Ariel Live -- Ariel has a crazy insane mother. This book is well written, however Ariel it is a raw account and doesn't seem to have much perspective or understanding. I still enjoyed the book. Forgiveness is a journey.
posted by loveandhappiness at 2:19 PM on February 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

Mary Karr's Liar's Club and its sequel memoirs are about her abusive family, her own alcoholism, and her struggles with forging a life against that background. They are also very (darkly) funny, great reads.

If I may also recommend an album instead a book: the Mountain Goats' The Sunset Tree is amazingly hopeful and life-affirming for a work that's so brutally honest about growing up in an abusive household ("I'm in the living room watching the Watergate hearings while my stepfather yells at my mother/Launches a glass across the room straight at her head, and I dash upstairs to take cover/Lean in close to my little record player on the floor:/So this is what the volume knob's for"). No schmaltz, no bathos.
posted by praemunire at 2:40 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

On the hopeful side, Carol Shields' Unless is about the rupture between a middle-aged woman and her daughter (who's involved in a cult) and their eventual reconciliation.
posted by Jesse the K at 5:38 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's been a while since I've read Douglas Coupland's "All Families are Psychotic" but if I recall correctly my impression was that it was a thoughtful story about a really messed up family.
posted by mrbeefy at 7:53 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series really gets deep into abuse in families and its aftermath and attempts to heal and move on. I like how it doesn't just focus on individuals in isolation, but explores how systemic oppression and historical injustices get all tangled around such things.
posted by congen at 9:24 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recommend Winter by Ali Smith with the caveat that I am savouring it and haven't gotten to the end yet. It's relevant mostly because estrangement is part of the narrative. Her writing is artfully strange, very engaging, and devoid of sentimentalism.
posted by Morpeth at 2:01 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

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