Book Review: All Families Are Psychotic

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All families are psychotic. Everybody has basically the same family – it’s just reconfigured slightly different from one to the next.

All Families Are Psychotic, by Douglas Coupland

Since I’ve started writing this blog, it’s become easier for me to refer back to books I’ve already read. I generally pride myself on having a keen memory, but now the books I’ve read and my thoughts around them are gathered in one convenient location, for me as well as for readers. It’s become easier to track my own tastes and note any trends and changes.

All Families Are Psychotic revolves around the eclectic Drummond clan, who gather in Florida to watch the launch of Sarah, their only “normal” member (a one-handed astronaut)’s shuttle launch. Sarah appears to be the only somewhat normal character (although that could simply be because we spend less time with her than with the other Drummonds) in a family that includes someone called Shw. Yeah, Shw.

While I enjoyed the book’s sometimes snarky sense of humor and its rollicking, nonsensical plot twists and pop culture references, I found that I had to force myself to finish it. I simply wasn’t engaged enough and didn’t care enough about the characters. There are some characters the reader is obviously meant to sympathize with, despite their faults, namely Janet, the forlorn former matriarch, and Wade, the aimless but charming and well-meaning son. Despite this, I found my attention simply divided between too many characters. There was too much going on, with deus ex machina often employed to propel the plot forward. While I know it’s not meant to be hyper-realistic, I found this approach tiresome by the time I was halfway through the book.

Reflecting back on the books I’ve read since I started this blog, I realized that this book is part of a larger trend of a genre I tend to dislike: the dysfunctional family. When done well, this motif provides a source of entertainment and a point for readers to relate to. But most of the time…it just overcrowds the narrative with irritating, selfish characters and an artificial plot, usually revolving around some event that brings these characters together, usually a wedding, funeral, or, in this case, a space shuttle launch. The large cast of characters also makes it difficult to develop the characters fully, usually resulting in one character with depth (in this case, Janet and maybe Wade) surrounded by half-fledged, annoyingly quirky kin. I felt the same way about Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother, despite enjoying the authors’ other works that I’d read.

YES OR NO?: NO. Despite the promising premise, I found myself bored by the book and I wouldn’t pick it up again. As a Vancouverite, it was refreshing seeing insider references to my city, but my dislike of the characters and plot outweighed the few positive impressions I had.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: All Families Are Psychotic

  1. Ah well, sometimes the books aren’t as we hoped/thought they’d be. I haven’t read this one, but I’ve heard of it. I haven’t read many stories on families either, which I realized recently when I spent time with my large, crazy family.
    Blogging about books has made it easier for me to refer back to what I’ve read as well. It’s why I treat my reviews more as reflections and so pack in almost everything I thought of as I read the book, which is why they tend to be very long sometimes. But it does help me to keep track of what I read and what I thought and felt when I did so. It makes it easier to recall my experience with the books I read.

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