New York: Random House, 2018
Family dynamics can range from quirky to full-blown dysfunctional even at the best of times, but holidays have a way of putting this drama on full display. So, if you’re feeling a little uneasy with Thanksgiving looming ominously on the calendar, take the time to unwind by reading about other people’s wacky families—and how they thrived despite of, or because of them.
I have always felt drawn to books, particularly memoirs, that revolve around dysfunctional families. Memoirs like The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs helped put my own family woes into perspective, while also providing inspiring tales of resilience, redemption, and triumph.
Last month I read Tara Westover’s Educated and I was not disappointed. Highlights include a paranoid, survivalist father opposed to doctors and all things government; a herbalist/midwife mother with astonishing business acumen; and a sadistic, gaslighting older brother. Westover describes some truly cringe-worthy missteps throughout her journey to independence—like asking her college professor what the Holocaust was. But she manages to thrive in the world of academia, earning a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, and in a life outside of the physical and ideological boundaries of the family farm.
What’s memorable about this book is Westover’s extraordinary, extreme upbringing, coupled with her relentless determination and uplifting self-actualization. I think Educated qualifies as a new classic in the dysfunctional family canon.
If you need more true stories about other people’s families to get you through the season, check out J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, and Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner (not a memoir but still great). All of these along with Educated are available at CLAMS libraries including Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, and Eastham.
Brittany Taylor is assistant director at the Provincetown Public Library.