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Familiar by J. Robert Lennon
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Familiar (original 2012; edition 2012)

by J. Robert Lennon

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116None104,488 (3.47)3
Member:Berly
Title:Familiar
Authors:J. Robert Lennon
Info:Graywolf Press (2012), Edition: Limited Edition, Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:2012, Fiction, Indiespensable, Parallel Universes, Parenting, Marriage, Family, Gaming

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Familiar by J. Robert Lennon (2012)

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» See also 3 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
A strange book that I expected to like more than I did, because it was sort of about the nature of reality: a woman whose son has died suddenly finds herself plopped into a different world, where her son hasn't died, she has a different job, she's not having an affair, etc. etc. My problem was that I found all the characters, including her, rather despicable. Her new family was so dysfunctional, and no one seemed to have the capacity or wisdom to pull themselves out of it. And the ending didn't really pull the whole thing together. ( )
  bobbieharv | May 3, 2013 |
A naturalistically written book that plays with the true strangeness of memory, character, and perception. About halfway through I started to worry that the author was heading off toward some cheap alternate universe story cliches but Familiar is a much more thoughtful novel than that. It is genuinely disturbing in the ways it subtly questions the comfort of our memories and our settled evaluations of our life events. As the story progresses, it is decreasingly clear what of the protagonist's problems are external or internal, but by the end it does seem that no matter what has "really" happened, it's herself she has to deal with.

I think this is one of my top four books read this year. It beat out The Marriage Plot by a mile. It makes a good double feature with Julian Barnes' Sense of An Ending, but I felt let down at the end by the Barnes novel (much as I love some of his work). Familiar told me less at the finish, and said more. ( )
  scatterall | Apr 10, 2013 |
Strange but oddly mesmerizing. Intense, 40-something Elisa is driving home from visiting her son's grave six hours away, when she realizes the crack in her windshield has vanished, she's driving a whole different car, and seems to have gained a bit of weight and is wearing office clothes. When she gets home she finds that the past is different in her memory than it is for others. Has she slipped into a parallel universe, or suffered some sort of psychotic breakdown? The novel examines a marriage and a woman under stress, and what might happen to someone given a second chance in this way. It's rather unsettling. ( )
  amanderson | Mar 31, 2013 |
Imagine driving along the highway, when the familiar crack in the windshield of your car suddenly disappears. You refocus on the road only to realize everything is different. Everything. Your car, your clothes, even you. Beside you is a folder from a conference you don't remember attending.

Elisa's day is not going well. She decides she has no choice but to follow the road home. Her husband, Derek, is still listed in her phone.

"The mailbox is the same and the driveway she pulls into is the same. But the house is not.

"It is white, for one thing. It's supposed to be a pale yellow-gray. It had been white when they bought it, but they changed it. The rhododendrons are gone, replaced by a row of sculpted yews. Or rather the yews they tore out a few years ago are still there. The grass, to which she had always been indifferent, is healthy and trim, and the pink dogwood, the one that had seemed certain to die but then rallied and came back to life, that dogwood is gone and in its place stands a Japanese maple."

This is Elisa's story. But it is not just a story of alternative universes. It is a poignant look at a dysfunctional family, a marriage on the rocks. And the funny thing is that the author never intended to go there!

"The crazy thing is, I didn't want to write about parenthood. At all.... I'd envisioned Familiar as an oblique, rather detached, bit of literary sci-fi, something spare and enigmatic....It wasn't until draft three that I fully accepted that I was writing a novel about the psychological effects of parenthood....Elisa Brown is given a second chance, and her reaction, at least at first, is to long, terribly, for the tragic life she left behind. We are invested in our illusions--I wanted to explore what might happen if this particular one were stripped away."

Loved this book! ( )
3 vote Berly | Jan 27, 2013 |
While driving home to New York from Wisconsin where she just visited the grave of her younger son, Silas, killed in a car accident nearly 10 years earlier, Eliza suddenly notices that the world around her has changed: the crack in the windshield is gone -- in fact, she's driving a totally different vehicle; she weighs more; her clothes are different... and when she arrives home she discovers that the marriage she returns to seems to be healthier than the one she left and both of her sons are alive, well and living in California.

So, what happened? Did Elisa slip into a parallel universe? Suffer a psychotic break? As she tries to determine the answer to this question for hersefl this short novel also explores relationships and the terrible ups and downs of parenting and makes us seriously wonder about the errors we may be making in our own lives. Recommended. ( )
  karen_o | Jan 24, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
It runs deep in life, the feeling that we have wandered down some corridor just alongside the one where we truly belong. An inattentive step or two and already we have traveled too far. The door has disappeared. Our place in the world has become irrecoverable. The past half-decade of American letters has seen the translation or publication of a little pack of kindred novels intended to reproduce this sensation, nearly all of them fascinating. Call it the literature of the ontological wrong turn. Some of its representatives have been issued to great gales of attention, like “1Q84,” by Haruki Murakami, or “Remainder,” by Tom McCarthy, others to the keen enthusiasm of a few lucky explorers, like “Metropole,” by Ferenc Karinthy, or (by my lights the secret masterpiece of the field) “The Other City,” by Michal Ajvaz. To that beguiling list add J. Robert Lennon’s allusive and mysterious new novel, “Familiar,” his ninth book and one of his finest.
 
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After the death of his mother, he had spent five years in the house of his brother. It was not from what he said but the way he said it that his enormous animosity toward the domineering, cold, and unfriendly nature of his brother became evident.
Then, in short, not very pregnant sentences, he related that he had a friend now who very much loved and admired him. Following this communication, there was a prolonged silence. A few days later he reported a dream: he saw himself in a strange city with his friend, except that the face of his friend was different.

—Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis
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Elisa Brown is on the long drive hope after visiting her son's grave when the crack in her windshield vanishes. She notices other changes too. Her body is curvier; her clothes and car are different. Back home, she has a new job, s sturdier marriage, and disturbingly altered sons. Has she had a psychotic break? or entered a paralles universe? Her quest for answers hinges on seeing herself as she really is--something that might be impossible for Elisa, or for anyone.… (more)

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