Expected Publication: June 6, 2017
Format: E-book from Netgalley
As with most ‘women’s literature’ I found things to love and things to hate within this novel. I think the title is brilliant. What family isn’t practicing normal? Every family has it’s own struggles and issues that it is dealing with. Society expects certain behaviors from people and many families struggle to live up to expectations, both expectations they hold for themselves and those they perceive others to hold of them.
This novel is told from three perspectives: that of the Dad, Everett; that of the mother, Kate; and that of the daughter, Jenna. Within this family unit, there is also an autistic brother, who does not serve as a narrator.
One of my biggest struggles with “women’s literature” is this theme of putting up with an awful male partner for the sake of the family. This book is a prime example of this. Kate, the mother, has given up a nursing career she very much enjoyed in order to be there for her family and care for her mother who lives down the street. She has no friends or outside interests that she pursues. Her whole life revolves around her family. However, her husband is absent and deceitful. One of her his mistresses has already shown up on the doorstep introducing herself and she’s very suspicious he’s cheating again. He is “working” all hours and constantly checking his phone. Kate’s mother thinks he’s a louse, but Kate would rather continue putting up with it all, denying the obvious. Maybe this is to keep up appearances, maybe to prove something to herself, maybe to prove something to her mother.. maybe she is practicing some kind of normal she had hoped for. The thing that made me most angry about the relationship between Kate and Everett is when she relates a story where Everett raped her. Since then she is more submissive to his sexual advances, not wanting a repeat incident. Kate’s son requires a lot of attention due to Asperger’s and only she and her daughter Jenna seem to know how to relate to him. Kate’s mother also is increasingly relying on her, refusing to leave her home down the street and refusing to cook for herself.
Everett is an egomaniacal child in an adult’s body. He is always putting himself first. He has no real relationship with his children. He has been caught in one affair and is currently in the midst of another. He is constantly exchanging text messages while at home with the other woman, Veronica. He is continually visiting his mistress under the guise of woking late or needing to run out of the house at all hours for something that just came up at work. He is also attempting to understand Kate and her sister’s blood relationship to their parents through DNA evidence, without first consulting Kate in this matter.
Jenna seems to be the most self-honest and most relatable character to me. As she is capable of taking care of herself, she is largely left to her own devices. She is fully aware of her father’s infidelity. She avoids him and refers to him by first name. She is angry, dresses in black, has short spiky hair, multiple piercings and spends her days breaking into neighbor’s houses. She doesn’t break in to steal per se, but to check things out, spend time with cats, experience someone else’s domain. She gets caught breaking into the neighbor’s house across the street around the same time that their son, the high school football star, is taking a break from football because of his grades. She begins spending time with this unlikely friend, Wells. The woman with the cats, Cassie, also aware of Jenna’s presence in her home, begins paying Jenna for her time spent playing and feeding her cats. Wells and Jenna spend time with each other in Cassie’s home, which becomes a refuge for them and their developing closeness. Jenna, who had seemed such a misfit starts to come of age, grow and become happy with herself.
In the end, Kate does finally awake from her self-delusion. It is interesting how Kate’s life and her mother’s were similar in their solitary confinement as they tried to practice normal and hide from the glaring problems their family was built on. If you enjoy “women’s literature,” you will probably love this book. It is well written and there is a nice metamorphosis of the characters as they are developed within the novel.