“The son did as he was told. All his bloody life, he has done as he has been told. Time to change that, he thinks, grabbing a pen. He doesn’t write that this will be the last time his father stays here. He doesn’t write that he wants to break the father clause. Instead, he writes: Welcome, Dad. Hope you had a good flight.”
A grandfather who lives abroad returns home to visit his adult children. The son is a failure. The daughter is having a baby with the wrong man. Only the grandfather is perfect—at least, according to himself.
But over the course of ten intense days, relationships unfold and painful memories resurface. The grandfather is confronted by his past. The daughter is faced with an impossible choice. The son tries to write himself free. Something has to give. Per a longstanding family agreement, the grandfather has maintained his Swedish residency by coming to stay with his son every six months. Can this clause be renegotiated, or will it chain the family to its past forever?
Through a series of quickly changing perspectives, in The Family Clause Jonas Hassen Khemiri evokes an intimate portrait of a chaotic and perfectly normal family, deeply wounded by the death of a child and the disappearance of a father.
Khemiri (Everything I Don't Remember) repeats phrases, assembles lists, and stacks up a family's disappointments in this surprisingly satisfying novel set over the course of a single week. A man, referred to as "a son who is a father," threatens to revoke the Father Clause, a family agreement allowing his "father who is a grandfather" to stay in the small family-owned apartment in Stockholm whenever he is in town. The father is too critical of his son, too stingy, and too messy, and his overburdened son doesn't want him there he has bigger problems. His girlfriend, the mother of their children, has gone back to work as a lawyer, leaving him to care for their two needy children as his self-esteem dips into the red. The father is less demanding of his daughter, the man's sister, but he doesn't know about her personal struggles, such as the fact that she's pregnant and her boyfriend disagrees with her decision to have an abortion. The novel's wordiness and gymnastically vague details will likely wear on readers, but Khemiri succeeds at creating an infectious sense of melancholia as the poisonous patriarch is forced to reckon with the truth. In a slow build of quotidian moments, Khemiri constructs a familiarly flawed universe that lays bare what it means to be human.