Fiction School

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Putting the FUNK back in dysfunctional

A number of critics who have reviewed my novels categorize the families I write about as “dysfunctional.” I’m not going to be coy and pretend I don’t know what they mean, but I’m also not entirely sure I agree.

Sure, my characters often find themselves having dinner with their divorced parents and said parents’ bizarre lovers, sometimes with disastrous results. And yes, my characters’ family members often indulge in various forms of substance abuse and (sometimes under the influence of said substances) dole out questionable advice. Still, I’m not sure this makes them “dysfunctional.”

Looking the word up, it’s defined as “(1) impaired or abnormal functioning (gastrointestinal dysfunction) (2) abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group (family dysfunction).”

I don’t really think the families I depict are all that abnormal. Talk to just about anyone these days about their loved ones and they’ll admit their entire family tree, from the nuclear unit to the ancestral archives, is more or less fucked up. I’d say that makes those of us with a few kinks and eccentricities among our clans more normal (statistically speaking) than abnormal. And anyway, how often do you hear people refer to any family (their own or someone else’s) as “functional”? It brings to mind a home filled with factory workers, well-lubricated cogs in a slick, efficient machine.

I’ll take my offbeat characters—and my beautifully quixotic real-life family—over that sterility any day!

1 comment:

Julia Scott-Douglas said...

I agree. Dysfunctional families sound like they don't work, but if the family is split up or whatever and the kids are fine and the parents are okay, how is that dysfunctional? I come from a "dysfunctional" family myself - I have two step parents and three step siblings. I don't consider it dysfunctional at all because I love them and have a very functional relationship with them. So whatever to those critics. :)