Click here to read reviewer Bob Walch's take on A Friend of the Family.
From his time as a young internist in the early 1990s and his role as a husband and as a father, the author powerfully chronicles the tempestuous struggles of Dr. Pete Dizinoff, his wife, Elaine, and their wayward artist son, Eric. Drawn to be a painter - his father’s wishes be damned
- Eric has fallen under the spell of Laura Stern, the daughter of Pete’s best friends, Iris and Joe Stern.
With thick reddish hair falling over her shoulders and her benign smile, Laura has perhaps deliberately set Eric on a path of rebelliousness, instilling in him a cartoonish, almost ludicrous transformation which in turn has caused an emotional rift between father and son. Pete is appalled that Eric would defy his father’s wishes and choose to take off on a freewheeling trip to France with Laura rather than going to college.
For Pete, Laura is far from the clever, blank, nervous seventeen-year-old girl he remembered - and far from the girl who was admitted to a psychiatric facility for crushing the skull of her baby
at twenty-five weeks gestation. As Pete works though his feelings for Laura and the profound loss and sense that his son has ultimately betrayed him, the memories of how life bought him to this time and place shade much of this novel.
Until recently, Pete has lived in the excessive garden “of the good and suburban” with Elaine and with Iris and Joe, all in search of a world of success. But now a malpractice suit threatens his existence, his professional life, and even Elaine’s loyalty and steadfastness to him. While Eric remains estranged and Elaine unforgiving, Pete’s future
balances on Joe’s fingertip “as though it could blow his whole life and livelihood away.”
Grodstein beautifully moves us through Pete’s various dramas: the threat of homelessness, wifelessness, and joblessness, and earlier
his own father's death and then Elaine’s battle with breast cancer. Meanwhile, the longtime friendship with Joe and Iris is strained as Pete can’t quite rise above his vague disgust at what Laura
did - and also the self-satisfaction of not having had it happen to his family.
Eventually, Eric prospers in an entirely different direction while Pete anguishes over the long nights his son spends in the East Village in Laura’s bed. But Pete can do little to control Eric’s willful ways. This novel - filled with drama, struggle, and complicated family entanglements
- centers on Pete, Elaine, Iris and Joe as they all try to cope with the consequences of Eric and Laura’s bourgeois disenchantment and their naďve
Despite his drawbacks, Pete is a good man, a hard worker, and an intensely moral man who clearly wants the best
for Eric even though he can’t see that he’s stifling him by not letting his son follow his own path in life. Ultimately, however, Pete’s downfall is his self-righteous determination. Forced to question his own moral compass, Pete ends up learning some hard lessons about what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving husband, and a committed, accepting father.