Regina Reviews on Every Happy Family

Reviewed by: Devin Pacholik

When we’re young, we tend to think of our family members as constants: unchanging certainties that we can reduce to caricature terms: dad; mum; brother; sister.

Each one of those words represents a person with a history. But every history is multi-perspective and nebulous. With time, our definitions expand to include the unexpected. We may find ourselves asking, “Who are these people?”

Dede Crane’s novel, Every Happy Family, searches the diverse personalities of the Wrights. Their stories untangle to reveal surprising motives, successes, tragedies and complexities.

The family members learn more about each other as they deal with their own misfortunes.

As the father Les Wright ponders, “Random encounters with strangers. Is family any different?” The one-time master chef thinks this after being diagnosed with severe health complications, and having a bizarre conversation with a neighbour about fear and the consciousness of trees.

Crane keeps each narrative fresh and anchors each encounter with part of the Wright family with sometimes hilarious, other times breathtaking, events. The author’s knack for timing makes for a charming reading experience.
Every Happy Family reminds me of the film Little Miss Sunshine. The story is quirky, but it also brings you to some thoughtful places. For instance, the grandmother Nancy degenerates with late-stage Alzheimer’s, and yet she is one of the funniest characters. It’s a sad kind of funny, but she says and does funny things nonetheless, and the rest of the family can’t help but laugh at the oddness of life’s lot.

Many scenes, especially between Nancy and her daughter Jill, are astonishingly touching and real.

The children of the Wright family have their own dilemmas.

Quinn, book-smart but relationship-dense, develops a drinking problem and a resentment towards his own happiness; Beau, handsome and athletic, becomes consumed by his desire to become a rugby star in Europe, even at the cost of his dignity; and Pema, adopted from Nepal, endeavours to reconcile her relationship with her culture and families.

Going back to the Little Miss Sunshine comparison, Auntie Annie deserves mention as an unconventional character in Every Happy Family. She is hilarious; she is also a bit of a wreck.

Annie, the sister of Les, was adopted with her brother and is on a constant quest to find their biological parents. Annie is a manic flowerchild, and she generally says things that make the kids laugh and the parents frown.

Every Happy Family shows that the people closest to us are perhaps unknowable and unattainable, but the journey with them through life is beautiful.

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