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Following the death of her worthy liberal parents, Corlis McCrea moves back into her family's grand Reconstruction mansion in North Carolina, willed to all three siblings. Her timid younger brother has never left home. When her bullying black-sheep older brother moves into "his" house as well, it's war. Each heir wants the house. Yet to buy the other out, two siblings must Following the death of her worthy liberal parents, Corlis McCrea moves back into her family's grand Reconstruction mansion in North Carolina, willed to all three siblings. Her timid younger brother has never left home. When her bullying black-sheep older brother moves into "his" house as well, it's war. Each heir wants the house. Yet to buy the other out, two siblings must team against one. Just as in girlhood, Corlis is torn between allying with the decent but fearful youngest and the iconoclastic eldest, who covets his legacy to destroy it. A Perfectly Good Family is a stunning examination of inheritance, literal and psychological: what we take from our parents, what we discard, and what we are stuck with, like it or not.


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Following the death of her worthy liberal parents, Corlis McCrea moves back into her family's grand Reconstruction mansion in North Carolina, willed to all three siblings. Her timid younger brother has never left home. When her bullying black-sheep older brother moves into "his" house as well, it's war. Each heir wants the house. Yet to buy the other out, two siblings must Following the death of her worthy liberal parents, Corlis McCrea moves back into her family's grand Reconstruction mansion in North Carolina, willed to all three siblings. Her timid younger brother has never left home. When her bullying black-sheep older brother moves into "his" house as well, it's war. Each heir wants the house. Yet to buy the other out, two siblings must team against one. Just as in girlhood, Corlis is torn between allying with the decent but fearful youngest and the iconoclastic eldest, who covets his legacy to destroy it. A Perfectly Good Family is a stunning examination of inheritance, literal and psychological: what we take from our parents, what we discard, and what we are stuck with, like it or not.

30 review for A Perfectly Good Family

  1. 4 out of 5

    Karen Germain

    Lionel Shriver has been a huge discovery for me. She is a ridiculously gifted writer and I look forward to working my way through her novels. Shriver’s “A Perfectly Good Family” was as near to a perfect novel as I have ever read. It is the story of three very different siblings who inherit their family home, a very grand southern colonial manor. A bulk of the story takes place in the home and it is very dialogue heavy. As I was reading, I kept thinking that it would really translate well into a Lionel Shriver has been a huge discovery for me. She is a ridiculously gifted writer and I look forward to working my way through her novels. Shriver’s “A Perfectly Good Family” was as near to a perfect novel as I have ever read. It is the story of three very different siblings who inherit their family home, a very grand southern colonial manor. A bulk of the story takes place in the home and it is very dialogue heavy. As I was reading, I kept thinking that it would really translate well into a stage play. Shriver does a fantastic job at writing tension and cutting remarks. The novel is told from the point of view of the middle child and only girl, Corlis. Corlis spends much of the book analyzing her two brothers and dead parents, yet is very unaware of her own culpability in the family dynamic. There was one big thing about Corlis’ narrative that really rang true for me, the way she described her parents. She lashed out at them and picked on their short comings. I often find myself doing the same thing regarding my mom, who passed away three years ago. I think it comes from a place of hurt and frustrating, but it can come across as callous. I’m not sure if I would have understood this part of Corlis, if I had not had personal experience. My only negative was how the book ended. I felt like it was wrapped up a bit too neatly, although I am not sure of a better way to have ended it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Leo Robertson

    Re-read: made it to the end this time! Yes I saw the ending coming but enjoyed getting there :) All clever people everywhere of the consensus that families bring out the best and worst in us, and that we're better with them than without. I begrudgingly agree ;) First read: Many of those great multi-charactered tense and alive scenes Shriver excels at, but far too rambly. I got a lot from it but can't recommend. Re-read: made it to the end this time! Yes I saw the ending coming but enjoyed getting there :) All clever people everywhere of the consensus that families bring out the best and worst in us, and that we're better with them than without. I begrudgingly agree ;) First read: Many of those great multi-charactered tense and alive scenes Shriver excels at, but far too rambly. I got a lot from it but can't recommend.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Compared to We Need to Talk about Kevin and So Much for That, this novel was a huge disappointment. I was confused when I read it was published in 2009, because it seemed so much weaker than her latest novel; it was only later that I realized it was a reprint of a 1996 work, which explains why it doesn’t quite have her trademark sharp wit, insightful narrator, cynical observations and loveably irascible characters. I often expect that a writer’s most autobiographical work will be their warmest an Compared to We Need to Talk about Kevin and So Much for That, this novel was a huge disappointment. I was confused when I read it was published in 2009, because it seemed so much weaker than her latest novel; it was only later that I realized it was a reprint of a 1996 work, which explains why it doesn’t quite have her trademark sharp wit, insightful narrator, cynical observations and loveably irascible characters. I often expect that a writer’s most autobiographical work will be their warmest and most enjoyable, but that certainly is not the case here. Corlis resembles Shriver in her North Carolina heritage, her self-imposed exile to the UK, and her upbringing in a liberal household with two brothers. However, the depictions of the American South and of London both seem caricatured; neither rings true to me. It’s as if Shriver was in between cultures, too long gone to lovingly evoke her Raleigh childhood but not anglicized enough to use English slang without sounding like a tourist. The plot is fairly thin: Corlis has returned to North Carolina after the death of her penny-pinching mother to work on dividing up the house and its assets. The main complication is that the house has been divided four ways between the three siblings and their father’s beloved ACLU, and none of the parties are willing to give up the house or the money it will bring. Corlis has to decide which brother she will support in the bid to buy the house and pay out the other sibling. What I most enjoyed about the novel was the reminiscences of the mother’s extreme spendthrift ways: scraping mold off of old cheese and bread, keeping small frozen portions of food for decades, carefully guarding every rubber band and stamp. (It made me smile, but also made me wonder if I’ll be that batty old packrat one day – I’m well on my way now!)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eliza

    12/29/2011: I had high expectations for this novel, my third of Lionel Shriver's works. But it was clear to me from reading this older work (first published 1996; WNTTAK was published 2003, SMFT 2010) how much Shriver's work has advanced over the last 15 years. While APGF bears all the hallmarks of Shriver's later works (gorgeous and complex sentences, incisive and often harshly critical observations of characters and relationships, and intense scrutiny of what at first seem like minor details), 12/29/2011: I had high expectations for this novel, my third of Lionel Shriver's works. But it was clear to me from reading this older work (first published 1996; WNTTAK was published 2003, SMFT 2010) how much Shriver's work has advanced over the last 15 years. While APGF bears all the hallmarks of Shriver's later works (gorgeous and complex sentences, incisive and often harshly critical observations of characters and relationships, and intense scrutiny of what at first seem like minor details), it is also less fluid, less organized, a bit more exaggerated, a bit less perfect. In those fifteen years, Shriver has developed an extraordinary finesse, a sometimes frighteningly smooth--though still intricate and delicate--touch. She has advanced from characters like Mordecai McCrea or his mother Eugenia, almost caricatures of a "genius" boor and a self-abnegating martyr mother (in APGF), to characters much more interesting and complex and less obvious, like Shepherd and Glynis Knacker (in SMFT) and of course Eva and Kevin Khatchadourian (in WNTTAK). I love slowly accumulating an understanding of an author and his or her work through reading--and not all together, and not in the right order--his or her books. Each of course stands on its own, and yet each additional work I read also sheds light on each of the others, creating a kind of kaleidoscopic and layered view of the work as a whole. I realize this is a piercing glimpse into the obvious…and yet it explains a lot of the reasons I loved this book. By itself, it was good…but not great. But understood together with others of her works, it is much more valuable. Sometimes, it's true, this doesn't work for me, and I'm just as likely to compare one to another of an author's works and say one is good and the other is bad--or if I'm feeling generous, "an experiment that failed". Maybe that will still happen to me as I read more of Shriver. But so far…they've all been pretty amazing. I can't know whether I'd have LOVED APGF if I hadn't read the others first…but it doesn't matter. I'll keep reading more.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vonia

    A Perfectly Good Family (1996) Author: Lionel Shriver Read: 6/24/19 Rating: 3.5/5 "A Perfectly Good Characters Study" My eleventh book from Lionel Shriver. If she isn't my favorite, likely one of my most read authors. One of Shriver's earlier efforts and it shows. What do I mean by that? Pretentious language, characters did not feel as relatable. Felt far more clinical than her later works, like she was still finding the balance between journalism and creative writing. But being Lionel Shriver, A Perfectly Good Family (1996) Author: Lionel Shriver Read: 6/24/19 Rating: 3.5/5 "A Perfectly Good Characters Study" My eleventh book from Lionel Shriver. If she isn't my favorite, likely one of my most read authors. One of Shriver's earlier efforts and it shows. What do I mean by that? Pretentious language, characters did not feel as relatable. Felt far more clinical than her later works, like she was still finding the balance between journalism and creative writing. But being Lionel Shriver, maybe she is simply too smart for her own good! Either way, glad she changed her ways later on- using words and vernacular that was not dumbed down per se, but more colloquial and readable. Reading this, "pretentious" came to mind more than once. A thin plot with rich details, tangents that were usually- but not always- interesting. Alas, the difficult to like characters and self righteousness- an undertone in the entire novel. Have always suspected this about Shriver- and there are hints of it in her other works- but her negative perceptions on middle class America are especially apparent, albeit ostensibly opinions of her character, Corlis. self-righteous tangents, unlikeable characters, rambling redundance! All this being said, Shiver kept things engaging enough to keep the pages turning- and there were of course plenty of good and great aspects, not least of which is her writing talent, plain and simple. Furthermore, Corlis McCrea might as well be Shriver as a young woman- the autobiographical content included in this book is intriguing. Shriver was born in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1957; this is still the only book she has written set in her hometown. Heck-Andrews is a real-life historical house in the Oakwood neighborhood in greater Raleigh. She, also, was the only girl with two brothers. A self-proclaimed tomboy, she aptly made it official via a name change from Margaret Ann at the young but dauntless age of fifteen. She credits her father for having made her who she is today. Dedicated and devout to what might be described as their ikigai, Shriver's father was deeply religious, a Presbyterian minister - as opposed to Corlis's experience under the tutelage of her deeply political father, a social rights activist and lawyer. But even this makes perfect sense, considering all the activism Shriver has been involved with throughout her life, both personally and professionally. Corlis's time living in London, her resistance to returning home to North Carolina, and eventual return to the United Kingdom- a place she adores and where she feels most comfortable- can easily be attributed to Shriver's own emigration to London, where she resides to this day. O, Shriver, Shriver, Wherefore art thou great Shriver? Thine words hast still wooed! This one is primarily a character study- not only of Corlis, but every one of her family members. A refreshing aspect of Corlis's otherwise affected and stilted personality is her bluntness and zeal for saying things most would be afraid to even think- this of course lends itself well to the analyzing and l overanalyzing of the people she thinks she knows well. She is bold and brash, and it's less that she is a particularly bad person then that she is willing to be upfront about what she does and feels, rather than suffer in fraudulent denial (like her mother did until the day she died). (Not going to lie, she reminds me of me.) For example, she unabashedly states that parents have favorites, despite what they say. She even draws out a scorecard for each of the "four" McCrea children, documenting with surprising conviction how her mother and father would rank them (Father: ACLU, Corlis, Truman, Mordecai/Mother: Mordecai, Truman, Corlis, ACLU/Total: All tied). She tells of a time her father said in all seriousness, "If I'd known at the time what he put me in your mother through, I'd never have had my first born son." The fact that he was not especially emotional at the time and said it unsolicited only made it that much worse. She unapologetically describes how she has played both sides with her siblings her entire life- even going so far as to impute her father's dictum that he wanted not pie or ice cream, but pie with ice cream. Primary themes addressed are: inheritance, family dynamics, sibling psychology, psychology of birth order, and- interestingly- authenticity; how harmful living under a guise can be, not only to your own life and satisfaction, but also to those around you. Most pertinent and prevalent is the sibling dynamics element. Shiver handles this in detail and with great insight into the relationship intricacies- the inevitability of comparisons, competitions, rivalries, love, hate- is blood always thicker? Are we born into pre-established roles in our families and do we ultimately remain the same in our ways, or can we change them? Most refreshing and provocative, however, is Corlis's depiction of her late mother- a woman who not only spent- but devoted- her life to appearances. Once a gorgeous head-turner, she gained weight later in life, but rather than do something about it, she turns her displeasure, into baking pies that she insists on feeding to everyone close to her, despite resistance. Extremely frugal, but was never willing to admit it. Harangued her children, but most often passive-aggressively or when gossiping about a sibling behind their back. Took pains to comment, ostensibly casually, on how good things were, as if trying to convince herself more than anyone. Cried ostentatiously when she didn't get her way. Did things like knock without waiting for an answer- and then innocently pretended to not understand what she did wrong, even if it was the umpteenth time she had been advised of the answer. Gushed to anyone and everyone how great her marriage was and how much she loved her husband- most of all to her children. It was true, but her need to advertise it frequently and perpetually spoke to her own unrelenting fear that it wasn't, or that it wouldn't last. A complex psyche, indeed. Eugenia McCrea is but another demonstration of Shriver's undeniable dexterity when it comes to creating characters I feel like might be living right next door. still honing her craft- insightful psychology, but sometimes too much. Plenty of intriguing insights into families and siblings and flawed characters, but difficult to look past the highbrow writing, or else highbrow characters. Even their names feel this way- our sassy protagonist Corlis McCrea, who has moved back to the Raleigh, North Carolina area from London upon her mother Eugenia's death (found in her room soaked amongst portraits of her husband Sturges who had been killed by a drink driver not that long ago). We soon meet her younger brother, Truman- seen as a milquetoast, still living at home taking care of his parents- though he is married to a schoolteacher with a likewise unusual name, Averil. Then there is rebellious black sheep older brother Mordecai, who left home as soon as he could and isn't exactly the nicest guy- a bully of sorts who likes it; both Corlis and Truman are afraid of him. Carrying on the tradition of unusual names, when Truman and Averil have a son, he is named Delano Adlai McCrea. The ostensible plot of the novel centers around Corlis's critical decision- by multiple definitions of the word. Heck-Andrews has been bequeathed to the three children and the ACLU; none are willing to give up much, and none have the funds to overpower the other three. The two sons are long time enemies, only speaking to each other when absolutely necessary, and even then only with Corlis as liaison. She must buy one brother out by teaming up with the other. Will she choose The Bulldozer or The Tender Flower? Will she stand by her childhood alliances or prove that we aren't dictated by family roles? It's a love triangle- the fact that it's not romantic but familial love doesn't make it any less true. how we love them so, but families bring out the worst- with siblings all's fair! Some good, some bad; I read with compelled captivation, only to become bored with another digression, but would return again to have my interest renewed. And then. The ending. What a disappointment. I can see the pretty red bow on top. So pretty, I can't even call it predictable. And from Shriver! I expected so much better. **** Spoilers **** She even added the maudlin car accident with emergency room trip and miracle survival. Right on time, the brothers start making up, The Tender Flower tending to The Bulldozer, now becoming less so in his disabled state. With both brothers on board, they easily win Heck-Andrews (outbidding the Asians who Corlis harps about with unconcealed racism), pays the ACLU their fourth in the inheritance as laid out in their parent's will, and the three McCrea siblings are finally all under a single roof again- this being the first time since they were not yet teenagers- and something none of them would have ever fathomed would happen. In the end, Corlis didn't have to choose. I felt cheated. All this suspense, wondering who she would choose, how the consequences would affect the three of them. Feels like it was all for naught. Lionel, you'll do better next time! all was good enough, until too tidy an end- a deadline to meet? #Haibun #PoemReview #British #London #NorthCarolina #activism #auction #autobiographicalnovel #alcoholism #caraccident #caretaker #deathofparent #dysfunctionalfamily #hospital #houseascharacter #inheritance #lovetriangle #parenting #siblings #smalltown

  6. 4 out of 5

    caitlin

    My sister gave me this book after I saw on goodreads that she had been reading it. She had previously given me Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin (well, she'd given it to my mother, but my mother was in the ICU on oxygen at the time and was in no position to fight when I stole it - I did return it to mom after reading it)which we both enjoyed very much. When I saw she was reading this I asked what she thought and she said she was bored and never finished it, but I could have it if I wanted. I My sister gave me this book after I saw on goodreads that she had been reading it. She had previously given me Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin (well, she'd given it to my mother, but my mother was in the ICU on oxygen at the time and was in no position to fight when I stole it - I did return it to mom after reading it)which we both enjoyed very much. When I saw she was reading this I asked what she thought and she said she was bored and never finished it, but I could have it if I wanted. I should have listened to me sister. It was boring to start, then it just got annoying. The protagonist, Corlis, was so unlikeable, but not one that you love to hate. Just unlikeable. I always find it precious and annoying when an American author writes about American characters living in the US and uses British English. Granted, this book was published in London, so that offers explanation for the neighbours, favourites, and colours, etc. And granted, the annoying Corlis had left North Carolina to live in London, yet it still came across as pretentious and unnecessary. Shriver seems to have an ex-patriot's negative view of the US, specifically middle class US, and her premise in A Perfectly Good Family seems to be to negate Tolstoy's theory about every unhappy family being unhappy in its own way. To her, or to Corlis, we are all much of the same, and uninteresting to boot. I should have listened to my sister. Anyone want a book?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Did I just give 3 stars to a book by Lionel Shriver? I did. I finished this book, because there are always good ideas in her books, and the text is a trove of verbal nuggets. BUT IMO Shriver was very much finding her voice in this novel (which preceded the brilliant "We Need To Talk About Kevin") and it was a little awkward for me, the diehard fan, to witness Shriver's less steady writing. The subject and themes and plot felt cheaper (e.g. mass-market fiction) than what I'm accustomed to with Sh Did I just give 3 stars to a book by Lionel Shriver? I did. I finished this book, because there are always good ideas in her books, and the text is a trove of verbal nuggets. BUT IMO Shriver was very much finding her voice in this novel (which preceded the brilliant "We Need To Talk About Kevin") and it was a little awkward for me, the diehard fan, to witness Shriver's less steady writing. The subject and themes and plot felt cheaper (e.g. mass-market fiction) than what I'm accustomed to with Shriver, but the book was lifted by her raw talent, which was there, just not anywhere close to as polished and crisp and taut as in "Kevin" and "Post-Birthday." Also, the ending caught me off guard. I was reading on my Kindle, and I now realize that for some reason the electronic version had a double copy of the book. So, I thought I was "50%" of the way through the book, when in fact I was at the end. Not Shriver's fault, but mentally I very much thought I was still in the middle, and so, when I began to suspect that she was tying together all the loose ends, I was caught off guard. And the ending itself -- regardless of the Kindle glitch -- was pretty crappy IMO, very unsatisfying, not credible, too neat.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alyce

    I picked this up because I really, really liked "We Need to Talk About Kevin," which I think is the reason why a lot of people read it. I usually can feel a fair amount of things to like in many of the books I read (or at least appreciate) but this one didn't do it for me. It's funny because I usually enjoy the universal theme of neurotic people, including families. There are a lot of us neurotic people out there. Unpleasant characters usually don't bother me either, so it's strange that I didn' I picked this up because I really, really liked "We Need to Talk About Kevin," which I think is the reason why a lot of people read it. I usually can feel a fair amount of things to like in many of the books I read (or at least appreciate) but this one didn't do it for me. It's funny because I usually enjoy the universal theme of neurotic people, including families. There are a lot of us neurotic people out there. Unpleasant characters usually don't bother me either, so it's strange that I didn't feel like there was much "there" there in this one. There were a few good observations and turns of phrase that seemed worthy of noting for a little wisdom, but not enough given the length of the book. And the end... ugh the end. I thought the end really drove it home that I ultimately didn't like the book. Two stars, I mean, I didn't hate it and obviously finished it. But yeah... not really one I would recommend.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Martinxo

    Shriver is a decent writer but this book suffers from one big flaw, it is boring. Ok, let's re-state that, it bores me. I'm on page 59 and do not have the will to continue, life is too short for that. Shriver is a decent writer but this book suffers from one big flaw, it is boring. Ok, let's re-state that, it bores me. I'm on page 59 and do not have the will to continue, life is too short for that.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Gallup

    Corlis, a 30-something would-be sculptor, has returned from the UK to her hometown (Raleigh, NC) to join her two brothers in settling their dead parents' estate, an estate that consists of little more than a stately century-old mansion. A situation like that can cause tension in a family, as heirs often have incompatible expectations. What if one of them intends to continue living in that house, as he has all his life? What if another wants the money that would come from a quick sale? What if nob Corlis, a 30-something would-be sculptor, has returned from the UK to her hometown (Raleigh, NC) to join her two brothers in settling their dead parents' estate, an estate that consists of little more than a stately century-old mansion. A situation like that can cause tension in a family, as heirs often have incompatible expectations. What if one of them intends to continue living in that house, as he has all his life? What if another wants the money that would come from a quick sale? What if nobody has enough money to settle with the others, or enough income to take out a mortgage? And what if there's a fourth beneficiary—a nonprofit organization with aggressive lawyers—that both dilutes everyone's share and also demands immediate liquidation? This is the situation Corlis finds on arrival. Soon, I was wondering if her unusual name is meant to suggest that she has no core, because in telling the story she reveals a fundamental inability to choose between competing alternatives. The problem began early in life, when any attention she bestowed on one of her brothers was viewed as a favor withheld from the other. That is most definitely still the case, by the way. Bring any adult siblings together again under the same roof, and watch how the old dynamic reasserts itself. Likewise, despite having grown up in the American South, she has cultivated an alternative identity as a Brit, so that her narrative is peppered with terms like "torch" and "car park" and "made redundant." Everybody comments on her affected British accent, which she accidentally spoils with the errant "ya'll." While living in the UK, she had simultaneous relationships with two guys who, upon discovering her infidelity, destroyed all the pieces she'd sculpted. That event, on top of the recent death—"the loss of what I had made, and of what I was made from"—prompts some soul searching. She delves so deeply into analyzing the possible motivations of everyone involved that this reads more like a memoir than a novel. Most of the time, everyone, including Corlis and their dead parents, sounds fairly despicable. Younger brother Truman is a self-righteous "milquetoast" who has led such a sheltered life that he's less savvy than the average ninth-grader. Older brother Mordecai is loud, crude, and intentionally obnoxious. One is perpetually indignant but helpless, and the other is perhaps maintaining a front to compensate for deep-seated feelings of inferiority. I wondered why any of them willingly persists in the toxic situation they're all perpetuating. In Corlis's shoes, I would have taken any of several occasions as a prompt to say, "Right, you lot, I'm out of here." Is everyone really as repellent as depicted? Corlis admits to herself that even she could be accurately described in such a way as to sound odious. That seems to be an epiphany for her. There are other such flashes, notably her observation that someone who considers himself powerless can nevertheless wreak awful damage. At any rate, Corlis cannot continue to sway indecisively between competing spheres of influence. She has a decision to make, and will need to be able to live with herself afterwards. That is, assuming events don't take another turn first. There's a modicum of humor in at least one scene (the one involving the TV), but when all three siblings come together the interactions tend to evoke pain. I've said in other commentaries that I like it when authors show some benevolence toward their characters, but that it has to be plausible. In this story, the conclusion feels as if the author had stopped the car and put it in reverse. I mean, it suddenly became a different story. I'm glad it didn't turn out to be a tragedy, but tragedy would have been the most realistic outcome. I've read several other Lionel Shriver novels. This is my least-favorite, but I still admire what she does and hope to read them all in time.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    So boring. I did not care at all about the characters. Loved The Post-Birthday World by this author and I wish I’d just read that again.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sasha

    I was extremely disappointed. It wasn’t just because it failed to live up to my expectations. [See, TPBW made such an impact in my life--both the reading one and the real one--that I'm resigned to the fact that a lot of Shriver's backlist would likely pale in comparison (I mean, a lot of novels by other authors can't hold a candle to that book, me thinks). But Shriver is a good writer--just because the story of that other book so gripped me, doesn't mean her storytelling's chopped liver. That is I was extremely disappointed. It wasn’t just because it failed to live up to my expectations. [See, TPBW made such an impact in my life--both the reading one and the real one--that I'm resigned to the fact that a lot of Shriver's backlist would likely pale in comparison (I mean, a lot of novels by other authors can't hold a candle to that book, me thinks). But Shriver is a good writer--just because the story of that other book so gripped me, doesn't mean her storytelling's chopped liver. That is, expectations aside:] this novel failed to be good read. On its own merit (or shortage thereof). Now that we have that out of the way, an elaboration is in order. See, well, the novel centers around a triumvirate of incredibly flawed siblings–Mordecai, Truman, and our narrator Corlis McCrea. Their parents are dead, and their wrangling over their inheritance, which is mostly Heck-Andrews (an historic North Carolina mansion built after the Civil War). Sounds straightforward enough, I guess? Yes: [1] This book cements my opinion that Shriver’s a masterful character writer. Although the characters run the gamut of archetypal to cliché to stereotypical to whoayouareannoying, they’re all well-written. They’re solid people, incredibly flawed, often annoying. Very often annoying. But I was annoyed at them as people–because as characters, they’re seamless. Shriver takes her time exploring the characters, even if it means exploring why one is such an archetype/stereotype/cliché. [2] Shriver’s language is flawless. Intelligent, though off-putting at times [did I just say that intelligence was off-putting?!]. Okay. That is, the voice of the narrator was just so distinct, and it’s in her voice that we learn of this story. And Corlis, well, Corlis isn’t always the most appealing person on earth. Anyway. The language. I liked. Yes. Leave it at that. Yeah, I should put in a quote as an example–because how can people draw their own conclusions? Heh? Well. Never mind. Too lazy. Too navel-gazing-y. Carry on. No: [1] Just the plot, you know? How it develops. The premise was intriguing enough, but the story lacked something. Something like heart? Something like sense? Something like unpredictability? What does it say that for most of the novel, I was moaning, “Why don’t you just do this? The solution’s so obvious!” And at the end I’d gone, “Oh no you bleeping didn’t!” It made me feel like the book was–despite the language, despite the characters–largely a waste of time. GAH. I’ll probably make more sense the more time I spent away from this book. It was meh. The whole experience was meh. Oh, it had its high points, but I should’ve taken the hint when the book had been Currently Reading for too many days. Damned novel refused to end. Augh. I should’ve stayed clear of Shriver. But I suspect that I picked the wrong book to reacquaint myself with.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Claudette Dunk

    I so loved Lionel Shriver's The Post-Birthday World, that I can't believe I'm now giving the same author a single star for this novel, apparently written much earlier (1996). Gripe #1: In this story about a sister, Corlis, torn between two very different brothers, only the sister is even remotely believable. Truman, the milksop brother who never left the landmark home that is at the center of their conflict is at one extreme and Mordecai, the profligate boozer, womanizer and brute is at the othe I so loved Lionel Shriver's The Post-Birthday World, that I can't believe I'm now giving the same author a single star for this novel, apparently written much earlier (1996). Gripe #1: In this story about a sister, Corlis, torn between two very different brothers, only the sister is even remotely believable. Truman, the milksop brother who never left the landmark home that is at the center of their conflict is at one extreme and Mordecai, the profligate boozer, womanizer and brute is at the other. They each run too true to their typecasting throughout. Gripe #2: The deceased parents are also fairly one-dimensional. The father, a respected judge, was mainly inconvenienced by or oblivious to the needs of his children. The formerly beautiful mother had gone to seed (or fat, rather) and was far more needy than her children. The greatest insight in the novel, for me, had nothing to do with the siblings purportedly at the center of the story. It was the dissection of how the mother's discomfort with ambiguity led her to behave falsely towards her husband, doting over him when she did not feel particularly loving and so taking what started out and might have continued as a true loving relationship into the realm of artificiality and role-playing. Gripe #3: Shriver's continuous dissection of Corlis's relationship to each brother, their motivations, their wounded egos, how she carries elements of each brother within her and how, like a chameleon, her coloring changes depending on which brother she is with and trying to please drags on and on. I read to the end because I wanted to know how the two brothers' competition for the house inheritance netted out . . . but what might have worked as a short story was not worth the long trek through this novel.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Adair

    Lionel Shriver writes the way a champion boxer fights—with gloves held high and a series of quick, tough jabs. A Perfectly Good Family, first published in the US and the UK in 1996, is being released in Australia for the first time. It’s the story of three children who have been willed a grand Reconstruction mansion by their parents. Each heir wants the house for different reasons, but none can afford to purchase it from the others outright. With the mathematical precision Shriver is known for, t Lionel Shriver writes the way a champion boxer fights—with gloves held high and a series of quick, tough jabs. A Perfectly Good Family, first published in the US and the UK in 1996, is being released in Australia for the first time. It’s the story of three children who have been willed a grand Reconstruction mansion by their parents. Each heir wants the house for different reasons, but none can afford to purchase it from the others outright. With the mathematical precision Shriver is known for, the scene is set for uneasy alliances and calculated betrayals. Corlis, the only daughter, is torn between her meek younger brother and the bullying eldest. It’s difficult to speak about A Perfectly Good Family without considering Shriver’s recent success. She won the 2005 Orange Prize for We Need to Talk About Kevin, a study of how maternal ambivalence contributed to a school shooting. She has also taken on competitiveness in marriage, population control, infidelity, and terrorism. These are heavy subjects that make the theme of sibling rivalry in A Perfectly Good Family pale. Shriver is nothing if not courageous. She is also a master of psychological undercurrent. It doesn’t matter that we never like any of these characters. Shriver manages to compellingly capture the nature of family dynamics with all the tradeoffs, bitterness, ancient wounds, and buried love. The situation between Corlis and her brothers builds word by word—expert jabs by the prize-fighter—until the reader is left craving not a particular solution but any solution at all.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    I have to preface my three star rating by saying that it pains me to give this book such an average score. I love Lionel Shriver. She writes exquisitely. I'm a big fan. I hadn't read this earlier book of hers so pounced on it eagerly at the library. I didn't love it the way I do her more recent works. It's still a very very good book and the writing is remarkable but the plot didn't grip me the way her more recent stories have. Three siblings in a mildly disfunctional family have inherited their I have to preface my three star rating by saying that it pains me to give this book such an average score. I love Lionel Shriver. She writes exquisitely. I'm a big fan. I hadn't read this earlier book of hers so pounced on it eagerly at the library. I didn't love it the way I do her more recent works. It's still a very very good book and the writing is remarkable but the plot didn't grip me the way her more recent stories have. Three siblings in a mildly disfunctional family have inherited their parents' dilapidated but beautiful North Carolinean mansion. What ensues is their attempt to resolve the question of who buys out whose share in the property and who should live there. Relationships are tested, old grievances resurface. Can we ever be grown-ups in our adult relationships with our brothers and sisters or are we fated to remain those squabbling kids in the sandpit, pulling hair and threatening to tell mum? It's an interesting setup. I loved the beginning and the ending, although it's probably too neatly tied up for some readers but I felt satisfied. There was just a bit too much navel-gazing in the middle, which had me wishing the end would come sooner - something I've never before felt with a Shriver book. She's definitely grown as an author since this mid-90s work.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    OK, I admit it. I'm sorry Lionel; but after We Need To Talk About Kevin, I avoided your other titles. Kevin was a love it or hate it novel and I don't think I fell into either of those categories - Kevin was trapped on the boat of puzzlement with Pi and his tiger. However. A Perfectly Good Family was so beautiful. An honest and raw look at familial relationships. Three siblings thrown together by the death of their controlling parents after years of separation. Three different personalities battl OK, I admit it. I'm sorry Lionel; but after We Need To Talk About Kevin, I avoided your other titles. Kevin was a love it or hate it novel and I don't think I fell into either of those categories - Kevin was trapped on the boat of puzzlement with Pi and his tiger. However. A Perfectly Good Family was so beautiful. An honest and raw look at familial relationships. Three siblings thrown together by the death of their controlling parents after years of separation. Three different personalities battling it out through conflicting emotions and interests. So poignantly written, it made me think and it made me feel. I could identify with each character and I felt drawn into their conflict so much so I felt like an observer, sat on the hard, unyielding oaken stairwell in their restoration home; listening to their individual hearts breaking and wanting so much to reassemble the broken shards of sibling love that still remained. It's denouement brought me both healing and pain and I am just grateful for such a thought-provoking and wonderfully executed novel.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

    A Perfectly Good Family brings a new dimension to sibling ravialry. Rivalry is really a euphemism for seething rage and blame for events from childhood to the present day where the 3 sibs battle for possession, or non possession, of their parents' historical North Carolina home. The home is filled with their deceased mother's hoarded 'perfectly good' things she was unable to discard - years of frozen food, rubber bands, old sponges - in a way symbolic of the sibs' inability to discard their own A Perfectly Good Family brings a new dimension to sibling ravialry. Rivalry is really a euphemism for seething rage and blame for events from childhood to the present day where the 3 sibs battle for possession, or non possession, of their parents' historical North Carolina home. The home is filled with their deceased mother's hoarded 'perfectly good' things she was unable to discard - years of frozen food, rubber bands, old sponges - in a way symbolic of the sibs' inability to discard their own anger. In the end, the transformation of their relationship lacked some subtlety for me. And yet, I wondered whether the rage that I thought permeated each page was altogether something different.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sunflower

    In the author's own words "inheritance-in the general sense of what our parents bequeath to us genetically, psycholigically, and morally. How much do we have a choice about what we would keep, what we would discard?" Four stars for the "nuggets of prose" that stop me and make me go "wow that was original", and for the credibility of the story and the people in it. Nearly lost a star for the sudden glibness of the ending, where she feels like she ran out of steam, or paper, or perhaps had a deadl In the author's own words "inheritance-in the general sense of what our parents bequeath to us genetically, psycholigically, and morally. How much do we have a choice about what we would keep, what we would discard?" Four stars for the "nuggets of prose" that stop me and make me go "wow that was original", and for the credibility of the story and the people in it. Nearly lost a star for the sudden glibness of the ending, where she feels like she ran out of steam, or paper, or perhaps had a deadline to meet.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    I find her books clinical dissection of peoples most depressing and unpleasant emotions quite off-putting. She is a great writer, very skilled at the art but the subject matter, not so great. For every one page of actual storyline moving the plot along theres 5 pages of each chracter analsing it in their heads and obessesing over every littel detail.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Really 2.5 stars, like author but...all Ican say since we have a reading group on this one coming up....TBC

  21. 4 out of 5

    Maria Paiz

    Told from the point of view of the middle sister, this book is about three siblings with a tenuous family relationship that inherit their parents' old mansion after their mother passes away. Once again, Shriver excels at developing characters, taking the necessary time to let them interact, and fight, and whine, and push each other, and question themselves and each other's limits until they can finally settle down their animosity. Though I purchased this book a long time ago, I took my time gett Told from the point of view of the middle sister, this book is about three siblings with a tenuous family relationship that inherit their parents' old mansion after their mother passes away. Once again, Shriver excels at developing characters, taking the necessary time to let them interact, and fight, and whine, and push each other, and question themselves and each other's limits until they can finally settle down their animosity. Though I purchased this book a long time ago, I took my time getting to it, mainly because after reading "We need to talk about Kevin" and "Big Brother," I knew that Shriver's novels require serious attention. You cannot miss a sentence in her books because the content in each line is rich with details and emotion. I was therefore excited when I finally took up this book, expecting her to dazzle me again... but this time I was disappointed. I'm usually drawn to books about dysfunctional people (not to mention dysfunctional families) but this book put me off by sticking in my face a bunch of malcontent siblings bearing childhood grudges and fighting over who takes the toaster. It's actually very well written –those people could actually exist and live next door– but I simply didn't want to hear them. Still, I gave Shriver three stars for it, because she is simply too good to deserve any less.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Caleb Hoyer

    I’ve now read five novels by Lionel Shriver, but this is the earliest book of hers that I’ve read. I felt like I could see Shriver searching for her voice. I often recognized it, but also often felt like I could sense her trying too hard. Her sophisticated vocabulary too often felt like someone relying on a thesaurus to pepper their manuscript with ten-dollar words. And I felt there were too many lengthy asides when the narrator would analyze her family members and offer her insights, which to m I’ve now read five novels by Lionel Shriver, but this is the earliest book of hers that I’ve read. I felt like I could see Shriver searching for her voice. I often recognized it, but also often felt like I could sense her trying too hard. Her sophisticated vocabulary too often felt like someone relying on a thesaurus to pepper their manuscript with ten-dollar words. And I felt there were too many lengthy asides when the narrator would analyze her family members and offer her insights, which to me detracted from the very simple plot at the center of this novel. This part of the book had me leaning towards 3 stars. But when the characters are front and center and actually interacting with one another, the novels crackles with drama and vitality. The action between the siblings reveals their complicated dynamics better than countless paragraphs of explanation, and the quarrel over an inherited childhood home provides a great premise for drama that feels quite a bit like a classic American stage play. I would give this part of the book 5 stars. So reconciling these two facets of the book led me to the rating above.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor Higginson

    I really enjoy Lionel Shriver’s cynical social commentary and clever characterisation, and A Perfectly Good Family was no exception. I loved the descriptions of Heck-Andrews and the setting of the American South. The McCrea family was beautifully drawn and their flaws and petty rivalries were very believable. To me, the book’s underlying message of ultimately learning to appreciate what our parents leave us was quite profound. So why not 5 stars? The ending was far too saccharine and didn’t seem I really enjoy Lionel Shriver’s cynical social commentary and clever characterisation, and A Perfectly Good Family was no exception. I loved the descriptions of Heck-Andrews and the setting of the American South. The McCrea family was beautifully drawn and their flaws and petty rivalries were very believable. To me, the book’s underlying message of ultimately learning to appreciate what our parents leave us was quite profound. So why not 5 stars? The ending was far too saccharine and didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the novel. I found it incongruous that Mordecai would be content with such a life and that the whole family would unite around Truman’s son. I also felt that the story could have been told much more effectively in 300 pages, rather than the 400 which were actually used.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alice Domenis

    I was recommended A Perfectly Good Family and the following title, The Mandibles, by a friend. I tried to like it because I trust my friend's taste, but my mind was constantly shifting somewhere else and it was impossible for me to get into the story. Moreover, I found the feature of making the American main character that lived in London still use British English words and expressions very annoying. It reminded me of a friend who has a mixture of two accents from two completely different parts I was recommended A Perfectly Good Family and the following title, The Mandibles, by a friend. I tried to like it because I trust my friend's taste, but my mind was constantly shifting somewhere else and it was impossible for me to get into the story. Moreover, I found the feature of making the American main character that lived in London still use British English words and expressions very annoying. It reminded me of a friend who has a mixture of two accents from two completely different parts of Italy (we are both Italian) where she lived; her accent doesn't sound natural to me. I felt the same thing while (attempting) reading this novel, the author tried too hard on this. ABANDONED

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This is the first Shriver novel I simply haven't liked. There are too many inaccuracies in the the main character's word choices (and that of her brothers). They are a family from North Carolina. Granted, the protagonist, Corlis, has lived in London for a few years, but the the use of British English vs. American English is pronounced throughout the novel, but never mind the family is an old Southern family of means and likely would maintain more of the colloquialisms of the area. Particularly t This is the first Shriver novel I simply haven't liked. There are too many inaccuracies in the the main character's word choices (and that of her brothers). They are a family from North Carolina. Granted, the protagonist, Corlis, has lived in London for a few years, but the the use of British English vs. American English is pronounced throughout the novel, but never mind the family is an old Southern family of means and likely would maintain more of the colloquialisms of the area. Particularly the brothers who have never left their home town. Honestly, I put the book down three fourths the way through as I simply wasn't invested in any of the characters.

  26. 4 out of 5

    mrs susan mclellan

    Just not in the same league as "Kevin" or Just not in same league as "Kevin" or so much for that. Explores siblings relations with each other and house they grew up in. Found it difficult to warm to any of the characters and was just not interested in the outcomes. Won't put me off Shriver just didn't find engaging and had to force myself to finish. Just not in the same league as "Kevin" or Just not in same league as "Kevin" or so much for that. Explores siblings relations with each other and house they grew up in. Found it difficult to warm to any of the characters and was just not interested in the outcomes. Won't put me off Shriver just didn't find engaging and had to force myself to finish.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Audio book narrator had a fake British accent, like the story's blithe/pretentious/self-important protagonist. Highly annoying. Otherwise, good enough read and interesting plot. Family drama is always a hit, with well written characters. But if you're new to Shriver, start with "We Need to Talk About Kevin," then "So Much for That," which are both considerably better reads. Audio book narrator had a fake British accent, like the story's blithe/pretentious/self-important protagonist. Highly annoying. Otherwise, good enough read and interesting plot. Family drama is always a hit, with well written characters. But if you're new to Shriver, start with "We Need to Talk About Kevin," then "So Much for That," which are both considerably better reads.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jule

    This is my first book by Lionel Shriver, and I intend to read at least a couple of her others. The writing alone deserves a 4 star rating, and I enjoyed the story but it lost a star for the 3 main characters, while being interesting and well-developed, were barely likeable and hard to sympathize with until near the end of the book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nathalie Bilinsky

    This book reminded me of why I love Lionel Shriver’s writing so much. She has such a unique voice and astute observations of family dynamics. This book isn’t as good as We Need To Talk About Kevin but up there with Big Brother and The Standing Chandelier. If it wasn’t for the twee ending between the estranged siblings I might have given this five stars.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    I have read some great Lionel Shriver books but this one doesn't quite cut it. I thought the characters were overstuffed somehow, just not believable for me. The plot stretched credibility and though I made it to the unlikely end, I was pretty glad when I got there. I have read some great Lionel Shriver books but this one doesn't quite cut it. I thought the characters were overstuffed somehow, just not believable for me. The plot stretched credibility and though I made it to the unlikely end, I was pretty glad when I got there.

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