Book Review: Real Happy Family by Caeli Wolfson Widger

Real Happy FamilyTitle: Real Happy Family

Author: Caeli Wolfson Widger

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary, Family Drama


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.“This entertaining debut novel unsparingly takes on damaged family ecosystems and the show-business machine. Widger has created a delicate suspension bridge out of her characters’ relationships to one another and the world, and throughout the course of the novel, she steadily, craftily adds weight, making for compulsive reading.” —Kirkus Reviews

 Favorite Quotes:

“Her father was often absent from their single-wide trailer, with its shoddy A/C and faux wood paneling, while her mother was overly present on the couch, like some sort of land-dwelling whale.”

“The dress’s Asian style couldn’t be less suited to Colleen’s chemically blond hair and too-tan skin, and its whimsical, curlicue patterns, contrasted harshly with the severity of Colleen’s form: the sinewy arms and blade-thin torso.  She was a human pair of scissors.  That she had actually been pregnant once, nourished and birthed another human life, was hard to believe.”

 My Rating:

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My Review:

I love irony, and this title is totally ironic.  There is only one honest word used in the title.  These people aren’t real with or to each other, and they are not at all happy.  They are a train wreck.  And similar to the disturbingly morbid habit of rubbernecking that we all seem to be guilty of at the scene of an accident – I could not tear myself away from this hot-mess of a family.  Every generation, and their extended family members, are offered up to us with their secrets slightly exposed, bit by bit.  It was like reading your own true history on those little strips of paper inside a fortune cookie.  They are flawed, tired, resigned, yearning, cloying, shallow, vapid, rigid, selfish, and uneducated – though fiendishly clever.  And all slowly spiraling out of control and headed for disaster.  However, I easily understand them and can see why things happened the way they did.  I can make sense of their rationalized behavior choices, and even sympathize with their bone-headed decisions, idiotic displays, and immature antics.  I was uncomfortable for them during their embarrassing scenes, and cringed for them when the perfect storm finally crested.  Without hitting you over the head with it, Ms. Widger’s writing is acutely insightful.  I want to know what happens to these people even though I don’t really like them and have nothing in common with them.  The writing is absolutely stellar.  I was shocked to discover this work to be Ms. Widger’s first novel.  I certainly hope there will be more, although I don’t want her turning her keen observational skills in MY direction for inspiration.

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