Anna, Portia, and Emery – three siblings who are now adults, have returned to their parent’s home. Their mother, Louise, is in the hospital after suffering what has been described as a “massive” heart attack. The siblings are there to be able to visit their mother at the hospital, and also to provide emotional support for their father.
Drinking Closer to Home is about a quirky family, each with their own unique problems. It is about living through situations that I would consider to be neglect, and somehow, being able to come together as a family during difficult times.
The title of the book comes from a family story that involved the sibling’s mother when she was a tiny baby. It is the punchline of what, to me, is obviously an instance of severe neglect.
I think this small part of the book is what makes the rest of it comprehensible. The members of this family have learned to find humor in situations that were neglectful, dangerous, and emotionally scarring. It is their way of coping.
For example, the year that Anna was eleven, Portia was eight, and Emery was three, Louise told the girls that she had decided to quit being a housewife. Anna would be in charge of cooking, and Portia would be in charge of taking care of Emery. No one cleaned the house, and the backyard (including the pool) fell into disrepair. This was not a temporary situation!
The book jumps around between the present – with chapters titled “Day 2” that mark time passing while Louise is in the hospital, and the past, with years as chapter titles. My impression is the the majority of the book comes from the viewpoint of one of the siblings.
Portia is very pregnant with her second child, and has just gone through a divorce. She is co-parenting her first child with her ex-husband, and missing her daughter. And now, she is also very worried about her mother.
Anna is an addict, who has gotten things mostly under control. (She has started eating too much red vines candy while visiting with her mother at the hospital). There is a lot of trauma in her past, in part, due to her own unfortunate choices. Anna is married, but isn’t necessarily monogamous.
Emery brought his boyfriend, Alejandro, with him to his parents house. The two are an established couple, and they want to have children. This puts Emery into an uncomfortable position. How does one ask their sisters for their eggs at a time when their mother might be dying?
Then, there’s Louise, who has been smoking for decades. The doctors want her to quit, but she’s not interested. Of course, she can’t smoke while she’s at the hospital, especially while recovering from a heart attack and very weak. Louise has her own issues with her parents, and also with her husband, Buzzy’s, parents. Buzzy has his own secrets to deal with.
One reason I like this book so much is because the characters are vibrant and resilient. They find a way to keep going, despite using less than advantageous coping mechanisms. Overall, family honestly is very important to all of them. They manage to come together when times are tough.
Another reason is because some of it reminds me of my own dysfunctional family. My mother never officially declared she decided not to be a housewife anymore – but that’s what her actions amounted to. Some of my family members were/are hoarders, and the house was never clean.
In my case, my family is very toxic, and I needed to separate myself from them. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that Drinking Closer to Home provides me with an satisfying story that allows me to imagine what it would be like if my family was able to overcome their issues and become functional.
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