Have you ever read a book that features a family that makes you think “Hey, that’s kind of like my family”? I just had the pleasure of muttering that to myself as I turned the pages of this latest novel by Elise Juska. Now, The Blessings does not feature characters that resemble people in my own family, I want to be clear about that. However, the family dinners that act as anchor points for each character reminded me of family dinners I attended as a kid (and still do!). Picture this: all the women in the kitchen, chatting with each other, putting the food together, cleaning up afterwards, while the men hang out in one big group talking in front of the t.v. or off in the back yard somewhere. This is a common scene many people can identify with, including myself. And the food that is eaten at these get-togethers is just as important to that ‘familiar feeling’-the food is generally not that healthy, but easy to make and freeze (casseroles, salads, cookies and dessert bars, etc.), comfort food basically. Juska uses these dinners in a strategic way throughout her narrative, and it acted as nice piece of nostalgia for me personally.
Strangely, although these family dinners happen throughout the book, and I recognized them from my own life, I never really got that ‘cozy’ feeling that I thought I would. Why is this? It’s not a negative detractor from the book-far from it. In fact, it makes the narrative that much more realistic. Each chapter is written from a different character’s perspective and at a different time, so the reader is constantly kept on their toes, which also prevented me from getting too comfortable. I never knew what was going to happen next, The Blessings was definitely a page-turner. Each family member got a chance to give their own perspective on things, and it’s so interesting to read first-person perspectives about a close-knit group of people, mainly because it reinforces the “everything is not as it seems” saying that we’ve all heard. Especially when it comes to families, people are always assigning archetypes to people-the worrying mother, the weird uncle, the overly-sensitive sister, you get the point. But Juska blows these cliches apart, much to my delight.
This book doesn’t follow the regular arc of a story either, as you probably guessed. There isn’t a clear beginning, middle and end. However, there is a ‘trigger situation’ that starts off the action of the book-a young father dies of cancer. Now, you would think that this would mean the rest of the book is a dire look at how each family member deals with this loss. But, like real life, this occurrence does not control people’s reactions, it affects them in a different capacities, in some cases, hardly at all.
So, those who know me well know that I love a good family book. I love reading about families, mainly because it confirms my suspicions that my own family isn’t as weird as I first thought. In fact, the more books that I read about families, the more convinced I am that I lucked out with mine, the one I grew up with AND the one I married into. Regardless of the state of your family, you’ll enjoy this book because it’s well written, and above all believable!