Grodstein’s “A Friend of the Family”

Here’s a good book.  A novel about family, friendship and a successful man making bad decisions. There is mystery, too, with questions that don’t get answered until the end, propelling the narrative forward.

Indeed, Lauren Grodstein’s engaging new novel absorbs with the convincing narration of Dr. Pete Dizinoff, a 50ish internist who’s facing malpractice and the rejection of his wife and son. Ostracized, he lives above the garage of their impressive Victorian home in a wealthy New Jersey suburb called Round Hill.

Up to now Dr. Pete has lived a successful, respected life. His college best friend Joe Stern, an ob-gyn specialist, and wife Iris live in the same suburb. It is not exclusiveness that defines these happy, self-assured couples, rather their down-to-earth desires to live the good life in secure suburbia and share the joy of raising their kids. As Dr. Pete looks back over the years from his fallen state, Grodstein deftly keeps us wondering what exactly he did wrong.

The build-up of events includes a crime of neonaticide. Laura, the Stern’s oldest daughter, hides a teen-aged pregnancy and then delivers the baby and kills it in a library bathroom. It’s a horrendous act that Dr. Pete can never forgive. Thirteen years later, his son Alec has dropped out of college and the beautiful Laura returns to Round Hill from California. She’s 30, Alec is 20, and they hook up. The overprotective father, Dr. Pete, makes it his personal mission to derail the romance.

To reveal much more would risk giving away the story’s conclusion, and it’s too good to allow that. But I will say, the arrogant, blinding wish to “get it right” with his son reveals Dr. Pete’s warped sense of parenting. He regards Alec as his legacy into the future. That is why Alec should go to a prestigious university, sign up for an impressive career, get married and have kids.  In the end, thankfully, Grodstein doesn’t let her narrator off the hook with a brilliant, subtle touch arrived at by this fallen man’s inability to see outside of himself.

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