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A Family Daughter - Book Review

Updated on February 26, 2008

Reflection on Maile Meloy’s A Family Daughter

Reading a novel about writing a novel isn’t usually the most satisfying experience, but Maile Meloy does it in such a way that it takes time to realize A Family Daughter is about a woman writing a novel. The story opens with young Abby deserted at her grandparents’ house for the summer by her two divorcing parents. When Abby comes down with the chicken pox and is confined to the house, her grandmother, Yvette, convinces Abby’s Uncle Jamie to come home for the summer. Jamie, who is in college, is much younger than his two older sisters and becomes an idol for Abby. The bond they create that summer sets in motion a relationship that later becomes both incestual and unbelievable.

Maile Meloy
Maile Meloy

Meloy’s attempt to make Abby a sympathetic character fails because she doesn’t offer any insight into why Abby does what she does. In fact, none of her characters are fully developed. Events happen to everyone in Abby’s family that help the plot move along, but they don’t help readers understand any of the characters. While reading A Family Daughter, I often wondered why anyone did what they did and, more importantly, I wondered why I should care. The story is entertaining, like a soap opera, but it is also as far-fetched as a soap opera. The older family members act more believably, living semi-normal lives and dealing with the same insecurities and doubts as anyone. But Abby and Jamie, who represent the younger generations, are so dysfunctional and confused that it forces me to question Meloy’s view on the young generations of today. I don’t believe these generations are as cynical and confused as Meloy portrays them.

As a whole, Meloy’s writing style is clear, clean, and simple: she has a strong handle on grammar. The only risk she takes is in her storyline, but this, unfortunately, doesn’t work. The plotline seems like a lot of ideas, sketches of scenes from her notebook, shuffled together in unbelievable ways. Some critics have suggested that this book, along with Meloy’s previous novel, Liars & Saints, which deals with the same family, are accurate portrayals of an American family. I disagree with these critics because I don’t believe most families produce young generations of people who avoid all responsibility and are not able to even complete college (which both Abby and Jamie do). To use this as an accurate portrayal of American families does these families an injustice.

As well, throughout the novel, Abby and Jamie only use the words “fuck” and “fucking” when they talk about having sex. This demoralization of sex seems like an attempt on Meloy’s part to be trendy ala the television series “Sex and the City”. As far as great literature is concerned, Meloy’s novel doesn’t make its mark. But it is an entertaining novel that doesn’t force readers to think about deeper meanings. If you are in need of a Danielle Steele book, but are sick of Danielle Steel, Maile Meloy is for you.

Last Words

After she read, she answered questions and revealed how she came up with the idea for this book. When Meloy’s first novel (Liars & Saints), which was about the same family as A Family Dauther, was published she found that she wanted to write about her experiences of having a book published. So she incorporated this idea into another novel, but treating her first book as the book written by the character, Abby, in A Family Daughter. I like the freedom writers have of putting their own spin on things (like Gregory Maguire’s version of The Wizard of Oz in his book Wicked). The idea that she put a new spin on one of her own novels is intriguing. I have read Liars & Saints and found it entertaining. It is an interesting idea to read a book that is a fiction novel within a fiction novel. I recommend these books to anyone interested in reading a different kind of writing format.


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