Two weeks ago, my siblings and I helped my mother move to an excellent assisted living facility within a mile of my childhood home. That’s the easy explanation, a breezy summation which masks the heart-wrenching path of the past year, from growing concerns over physical and cognitive health, to a rushed winnowing of household possessions to furnish a single room, to standing near as Mom said goodbye to her home of nearly six decades. The simple statement avoids another aspect which caught us all by surprise, the emotional toll of chafing against traditional family roles, both mother to child and sibling to sibling. Suffice to say the process was punctuated by eruptions of frustration as we lurched toward a destination we could no longer avoid.
In retrospect, it is no surprise that during my return flight I struggled to enter the world of Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Blunt’s debut set within a stilted, dysfunctional family household. Perhaps, in some ways, the read should have offered solace. After all, my family had successfully navigated a painful task, joining together as families must. But I suppose the bruises were too fresh, the lessons still unclear, to fully counter a natural resistance. Yet as I forged my way through the pages, I found myself pondering the family at the heart of my first novel, as well as the one in my current manuscript. And, in a most writerly fashion, questions began to churn.
Specifically, I pondered how depictions of family can offer a window into a protagonist’s core character. Similarly, I considered how fictional families, not unlike real ones, can challenge a protagonist unlike any other external or internal force. Here are a few ideas drawn from the exercise: