Family Matters

This holiday season, don't stress about family drama. We can guarantee that your crew's got nothing on these five dysfunctional literary clans.

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It's that time of year again: The holidays are upon us—cue the Mariah Carey Christmas album and dust off those ice skates. It also means there's a lot of family time ahead. Which we all know can be, well, a lot. With that in mind, we've pulled together a collection of books about dysfunctional families that are almost certainly guaranteed to inspire a newfound appreciation for your own kooky clan, as well as provide a respite, should you need it.

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This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Don't judge a book by its film adaptation, OK? Though you might not have loved last year's movie, rest assured that the book is much, much better. A novel about adult siblings returning home to sit shivah for their father, This Is Where I Leave You is witty, touching, and downright hilarious. The one-liners delivered among the Foxman siblings and the uncomfortable family dynamics (grappling with mom's new boob job, for one) are both relatable and funny. The book begins with a (lit!) birthday cake being thrown onto the bed of a cheating wife by her jilted husband, and the escapades that follow do not disappoint, either.

This Is Where I Leave You (Plume), $16, skylightbooks.com.  

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The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Another tale of adult siblings coming home to their parents (spoiler alert: people have issues). This time we're hanging with the Lamberts, who are reunited in the Midwest for the holidays. A study of neurosis, anxiety, failure, and impending death, this superbly written novel cuts deep. If you're feeling nervous about facing the extended family this season, the Lambert siblings' craziness may prove pacifying. From entanglement with the Lithuanian mob to more affairs than you can count, getting through one last Christmas seems at times an insurmountable task for the Lamberts. Your trip home will be a cakewalk by comparison.

The Corrections (Picador), $17, powells.com

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

Addiction, incest, fisticuffs: this one's a doozy. The play is set at the Weston family home in rural Oklahoma, to which the Weston children return after their father, Beverly, commits suicide. He leaves behind his wife, Violet, a pill-popping, vicious matriarch with a knack for bringing up painful secrets and stirring up explosive confrontations. The screaming matches that erupt between these incorrigible characters and the way these family members treat each other, so vividly written by Letts, are equally appalling and enthralling.

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August: Osage County (Theatre Communications Group), $16, skylightbooks.com.   

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The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Two weeks in Mallorca—things could be worse, right? For the Post family, however, the drama bubbling under the Mediterranean makes this vacation anything but ideal. Take, for example, parents Jim and Franny, who are ostensibly on the trip to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary: we find out early on that, in fact, Jim has just had an affair with his intern and lost his job in the process. Then there's the eldest, Bobby, an aspiring bodybuilder who has shacked up in Miami with Carmen, his personal trainer/girlfriend, who has a penchant for sparkly spandex. Finally there's the daughter, Sylvia, recently graduated from high school and desperate to lose her virginity before she goes to college. Intrigued? You should be. The Vacationers is as clever as it is riotously funny.

The Vacationers (Riverhead Books), $16, skylightbooks.com

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Meet the Bechdels: a family living in rural Pennsylvania that runs a funeral parlor. Fun Home is a graphic memoir told through the perspective of the author, Alison, at different stages in her life, as she looks back on her childhood and examines her complicated relationship with her father. This brilliant book deals with coming to terms with your sexuality (and that of your parents'), how much you know (and don't know) about what's going on in your family, and how your understanding of your childhood evolves as you get older. It's sharp, dark, and stunningly illustrated, too. Plus, reading Fun Home has major perks: once you finish, you can reward yourself with tickets to the Tony-winning musical adaptation on Broadway.

Fun Home (Mariner Books), $15, skylightbooks.com.

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