First, see Jon Fox's post.
Jonathan Franzen in his book, Corrections, writes the Lambert family into existence. He does this in such seriousness that I felt like he pushed me into the skin and consciousness of each character. The Lamberts are a nice Iowan family, and like most families they are terrifying.
For years, my family would go on summer camping trips with others from our church. We'd roll into KOAs within a two-state radius in our mini vans and pulling our pop-up campers, aluminum boxes whose lids lifted connected to canvas walls and had beds that would pull out of either end. We were all Good Christian families. Parked in adjacent spots with our water and electricity hooked up and a tree in the yard if we were lucky, I could hear the late-night arguments and comments from where I slept on the end of the pull out next to my mom.
Families bring out the worst in people. Chip Lambert feels he could handle his parents if someone would have sex with him a fraction of each minute they were around. Denise gets along great with her mother... for the first twelve hours. Each character has his and her aggressions, agendas, and illusions to uphold, and each will use harm to uphold them.
I grew up in the same city as the Focus on the Family headquarters. In FOTF's pamphlets and magazines there'd be photos of serene people spending time together. The woman would have an aura of fluffy bangs. The children would be seated attentive and wearing clothes in navy blue, forest green, and ivory white.
I'd ask people about what they wanted out of life, and they'd say wistfully, "I'd like to, you know, start a family someday." Like it was the most relaxing way they could think of spending fifty years.
Why not interact with people from a reasonable distance? It gives everyone the space to be charming, shiny, and pleasant. The intimacy of families brings out personal ugliness and vulnerabilities. What's there for it?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ (Not rhetorical, please fill in your answer above.)
Moving with the former Riverside trifecta brought me back to the days of my dad shouting at me to stay put and help set up the pop up. And me sobbing, "But I want to go fucking rollerblading."
In the last week and a half, we suffered some casualties. Christa's hand shook as she drank her lemon drop. I withdrew into a catatonic haze. We sweat a lot, had to share the same towel, moved so many boxes, half heartedly ate dinner. It was very familial.
The morning we left John and Christa in St Paul, Mitch drove because I was hung over from the screwdrivers we drank and cards we played the night before (Hungover Amy). Wisconsin sun over us, Mitch reached across the cab and caught my fingers in his hand. Sweetness engulfed me like we were being cast in amber.