From filmmaker and New Yorker contributor Susanna Fogel comes a comedic novel about a fractured family of New England Jews and their discontents, over the course of three decades. Told entirely in letters to a heroine we never meet, we get to know the Fellers through their check-ins with Julie: their thank-you notes, letters of condolence, family gossip, and good old-fashioned familial passive-aggression.
Together, their missives – some sardonic, others absurd, others heartbreaking – weave a tapestry of a very modern family trying (and often failing) to show one another they care.
The titular “Nuclear Family” includes, among many others:
A narcissistic former-child-prodigy father who has taken up haiku writing in his old age and his new wife, a traditional Chinese woman whose attempts to help her stepdaughter find a man include FedExing her silk gowns from Filene’s Basement.
Their six-year-old son, Stuart, whose favorite condiment is truffle oil and who wears suits to bed.
Julie’s mother, a psychologist who never remarried but may be in love with her arrogant Rabbi and overshares about everything, including the threesome she had with Dutch grad students in 1972.
Screenwriter and director Fogel offers a humorous, epistolary take on modern womanhood in her debut novel. Readers never actually meet Julie, who is a teenager at the novel's opening and in her mid-30s at its conclusion, or hear her voice; they only learn about her through the letters (and emails) she receives over the years. Largely these are from her bermillennial younger sister, Jane, and their newly divorced parents, but Julie also receives missives from her straight-talking grandma, her closeted uncle, and a host of minor characters, including a handful of inanimate objects, from the family's NordicTrack to her own cell phone. Each letter is introduced with a whimsical heading, some of which are as amusing as the letters themselves ("Your Dad, Who Doesn't Understand Your Career Goals, Just Found Out You Got Fired"). Some characters come off as broad types (the mother who incessantly feels abandoned by her offspring, the father who disguises his criticisms as concerns), but Fogel's novel offers plenty of glimpses both humorous and endearing into the life of a single woman with a well-meaning, if clueless, family.