I finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom a few days ago. In case you’ve missed the hype, the book focuses on the transformation of a modern American family as its members cope with various personal and social issues. Family sagas of one sort or another have been a staple of American fiction since at least Little Women. But the country’s literary canon lists few novels of family life. Readers interested in the subject need to look elsewhere for recommendations. So, I wondered, why not put down a few of my own favorites?
Here then is a list of a half-dozen novels set in California and written before 1960. A family (parents, children and sometimes other relatives) is the center of attention in all of them. The books differ substantially in tone and purpose, but each offers a top-notch reading experience. They are listed chronologically.
• The Lovely Ducklings by Rupert Hughes (1928). A comic tale of the younger generation and its inevitable detachment from parental control.
• Pity of God by Beulah Marie Dix (1932). A trenchant story of familial fragmentation told with barely suppressed fury.
• Under One Roof by Ruth Eleanor McKee (1936). A look beneath the surface of a large and seemingly successful family.
• Now and on Earth by Jim Thompson (1942). A quietly harrowing account of a family without prospects.
• Love Is a Place by Margaret Bridgman (1953). A painfully detailed rendering of life in the suburbs.
• Yes, My Darling Daughters by David Duncan (1959). What sitcoms would be like if they were funny.