Love ’em, hate ’em, or merely tolerate ’em we all have a family who’ll no doubt embarrass us. The extent to which we let them effect us varies, as can be seen in Susanna Fogel’s Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in Letters.
Composed from letters sent from her various family members, the lives of those surrounding Julie is depicted through these missives. Described as dysfunctional at best, these glimpses into the lives of this family demonstrates the struggle to retain meaningful relationships in a world where staying connected is too easy. Told over decades, the story develops with humorous, cringe-worthy, and sad tales from Julie’s scientific-minded father, psychoanalyst mother, adopted younger sister, grandmother, inanimate objects, and various family friends.
The narrative was rather entertaining and made me appreciate my comparatively normal family. The story became a bit meta toward the end with Julie writing a book based on her family as we’re reading letters from her family that sound very similar to her novel (which, let’s be honest, provides plenty of fodder). While I understand that the letters are all coming to Julie, I found it a little strange to have a one-sided conversation, as we never know how Julie responded to any of her family and family friends’s correspondences. Each of the characters’ personalities is well-realized through the way they write to Julie; however, we don’t ever really get a sense of Julie and instead only see her through the twisted eyes of her self-involved family members.
Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.