The title of this book, all by itself, screams out to people who come from dysfunctional families. I happened to start reading All Families are Psychotic right as the holiday season was starting. The story has nothing to do with the Christmas (or other holidays), but somehow, that felt like the perfect time to read it. I found myself relating to the title very much.
The book is about a dysfunctional family. Janet is a 60 something housewife, who recently got divorced from Ted, her husband of several years. Ted has remarried a younger “trophy wife”, named Nikkie. Ted and Janet have three children, all of whom are adults now, and all of whom have problems.
Wade is the one who is always in trouble. Sarah is the perfect daughter who is now an astronaut about to take off on the next shuttle. It is this event that the family has gotten together for. Bryan, the youngest sibling, is now in his 40s. He is the one who is always trying to kill himself.
The book goes back and forth between the present and the past, putting together little memories like puzzle pieces that make up the picture of the family. It’s one of those books where it seems like every other page reveals an amazingly bad event, which the reader never sees coming. All along the way, there are little insights about life, peppering the pages.
The title of the book is an example of that. One character in the book says something like “all families are psychotic” and points out that the problems in other people’s families are something you can overlook. It is the problems in your own family that are unforgivable.
In many ways, this book is as much about falling apart as it is about starting over. This one’s a keeper.
There are many things of interest in this book. The reader learns that Janet is sick, and it is something she caught from a family member, but not in any conventional way. Bryan’s girlfriend is named something unpronounceable, and the story behind that is weird, too.
The insights Coupland has included in this book about Florida seem to be right on target. I have only been there a few times, for a few days, while on family vacations, so I’m not exactly an expert about Florida. But, it seemed exactly right to me. Disneyland is a setting in this story, but the things that happen at that location are far from the typical family vacation.