Drama. You know how some people just seem to breed it? Well, the Bird family in The House We Grew Up In is nothing if not dramatic. We meet mom Lorelai, an over-the-top sentimental hoarder who is just too much: “‘Imagine,’ she said, her face turning serious for a moment, ‘imagine if something happened to one of us and there was no Easter egg hunt next year, imagine if everything stopped being perfect — you would wish so hard that you’d taken part today ….'” Longsuffering, genial Dad Colin. Practical oldest-daughter Meg: “Meg was always okay. Someone had to be and she’d been the one to draw that straw.” Lost, struggling daughter Beth (full name Bethan, but that’s weird, huh?). Twins Rory and Rhys, who … well, you kind of have to read the book.
This is a chick-lit, fast read. Kind of like reading a tabloid. There really isn’t a plot to speak of — just a book following the various family members from the time the kids are little until they’re adults. I enjoyed the beginning, relating to various characters and empathizing with them. At some point, though, the author threw in so much dysfunction that it just became too much for me. Suicide. Divorce. Affairs — with other extended family members! Same-sex affairs. I don’t know, I kind of felt assaulted by the family by about the 2/3 mark. Do actual people really do all this awful stuff? A good subtitle for the book would be “People Behaving Badly.”
The Bird House
As to the house itself, it becomes symbolic, with its hoard: “‘It’s not home,” he (Dad Colin) said. ‘That cottage, that place. I didn’t choose it. You know I kind of ended up with it, like the burned edge of a slice of cake. What your mother let me have. And I took it because I wanted to be close to you all and now of course none of you are bloody well there!'”
And as Meg tells younger sister Beth: “‘You need to get away from her. From all of it. It’ll swallow you whole otherwise. I mean it. It really will. And you won’t even realize it’s happening until it’s too late.'”
The book’s final scene features all the remaining family members uniting in a too-sweet way that I had to wonder how long would last, given their previous behaviors.
Would you enjoy The House We Grew Up In? Maybe, if you enjoy a lot of dark, interpersonal drama.