Real Happy Family by Caeli Wolfson WidgerPublished: March 4, 2014Publisher: New HarvestPages: 384Received: for honest review via publisher for blog tour with TLC Book Tours
Part-time actress, full-time party girl Lorelei Branch isn’t famous yet, but she’s perfected a Hollywood lifestyle full of clubbing, fashion, and the latest juice cleanse. When Robin, her sister-in-law and agent, throws a plum job her way, Lorelei jumps at the chance and auditions to be the new girl on television’s hottest reality show, Flo’s Studio. Enter Colleen, Lorelei’s pill-popping mother, who wants nothing more than to see her daughter win the fame and glory she never had a chance to pursue herself. But Lorelei’s dream of becoming the next reality star is dashed when she loses the spot on Flo’s Studio to a stunning African woman. In an attempt to defend her daughter against what she calls a rigged contest, Colleen goes ballistic and delivers a racist rant on live television, sparking a national media frenzy. Lorelei flees the limelight, humiliated and broke, with her slacker boyfriend Don and heads for Reno where she begins to self-destruct.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Branch family starts to come apart at the seams. Colleen and her husband, Carl, are quietly drifting apart. Darren, Lorelei’s older half-brother, is stuck in Florida working on a contentious film set while his wife, Robin, continues the tedious regimen of fertility drugs meant to help them conceive a child. Desperate to bring the family together again and make things right, Colleen hatches a plan to stage an intervention for Lorelei on the reality show Real Happy Family. Soon the entire Branch family is entangled in a mission to bring the prodigal daughter back into the fold.
Will Lorelei ever forgive Colleen? Will Real Happy Family air their most sensational intervention yet? All roads lead to a seedy Reno hotel room, where a reality TV crew is waiting.
The story follows a young actress trying to make her big break into TV. Her one real shot at stardom was ruined by her mother, who has just been trying to keep close to her daughter and acts more like her BFF than her mother. Lorelei is mortified by her mother's actions and completely loses it on live TV, she stops talking to her mother and begins a downward spiral into drugs and addiction.
The story is from many point of views and at first was a little daunting as it flipped back and forth and also to different times over the course of few years with flashbacks and current dates.
Colleen is the kind of Mom who wants to be her daughter's best friend. She became a mother at a young age and still wants to be seen as a youthful person. This was a hard thing for Lorelei to realize at first, that her Mom should be her Mom and not her BFF. She only realizes this after her mother humiliates and she distances herself to try to forget what happened.
When Lorelei runs away it almost destroys Colleen. Lorelei slips into the drug scene and allows herself to use drugs as a way to numb her feelings about what happened instead of just dealing with the fallout and moving on. She hits an all time low and is struggling with how to pull herself out of this horrible situation.
Darren, Lorelei's older half brother, is trying to figure out his life too. Wanting to get into mainstream directing instead of making his short films and while trying to have a baby with his wife, Robin. The frustration of fertility treatments lining up just when he gets an opportunity of a lifetime strains their relationship even further.
There are a few others side stories that I'll let you read about as they just add to the mess that is this family's dysfunction. I don't even think they realize how dysfunctional their family is, because they don't all talk to each other that much and there are some surprising overlapping in the story lines. I also feel like this story epitomizes what reality TV showcases daily - strung out junkies having interventions, dysfunctional families going through ups and downs and rich snobby people making others feel unworthy.
The one thing that brings them all back together in the end is a reality TV show that is taping the intervention of Lorelei (her Mom called them for help). Little do they know that in some way the intervention seems to have been for them all in some divine way. It brings them all together, helps them see what is really important and lets them all heal their various self inflicted emotional wounds.“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
What got me most with this book was how all of the relationships changed - they were strong at first, then faltered in some way and then began the healing process. Not all of the relationships are strong again, but overall the family dynamic is healthier then it's been in a long while.
About the Author:
Caeli’s work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times Magazine, Another Chicago Magazine, and the Madison Review, as well as on NPR and CBS Radio. She currently teaches for Writing Workshops Los Angeles, and has taught in the past for Brooklyn’s Sackett Street Workshop and at University College London. Real Happy Family is her first novel, and she’s hard at work on another. When she’s not writing, she’s hanging out with her husband and three children, working at her unliterary day job, or jogging while thinking about writing and/or new soup recipes. (source)