Families encompass so many universal human qualities that we can’t help but see ourselves in at least one (if not more) of its members. A few years ago, we shared a list of Family Epics for Your Book Club, and today, we are sharing Part 2 of this list. Bursting with bestsellers and award winners, these family sagas—spanning across Europe, Africa, suburban America, the high seas, and the swampy lowlands—are teeming with life, death, conflict, and redemption. For a sweeping cast of heartbreakingly relatable characters, choose one or more of these titles to discuss at length with your book club.
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
To kick off our list, we have Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had—now available in paperback with a gorgeous new cover. In this family saga full of long-buried secrets, Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, blithely ignorant of all that awaits them. By 2016, they have four radically different daughters, each in a state of unrest.
Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator turned stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she’s not sure she wants by a man she’s not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects.
With the unexpected arrival of young Jonah Bendt—a child placed for adoption by one of the daughters fifteen years before—the Sorensons will be forced to reckon with the rich and varied tapestry of their past. As they grapple with years marred by adolescent angst, infidelity, and resentment, they also find the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.
The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka
On the day of their estranged father’s wedding, half-sisters Cheyenne and Livy set off to claim their inheritance. It’s been years since the two have seen each other. Cheyenne is newly back in Seattle, crashing with Livy after a failed marriage and a series of dead ends. Livy works refinishing boats, her resentment toward her freeloading sister growing as she tamps down dreams of fishing off the coast of Alaska. But the promise of a shot at financial security brings the two together to claim what’s theirs. Except, instead of money, what their father gives them is information—a name—which both reveals a stunning family secret and compels them to come to grips with it.
Family of Origin by CJ Hauser
When Nolan Grey receives news that his father, a once-prominent biologist, has drowned off Leap’s Island, he calls on Elsa, his estranged older half-sister, to help. This, despite the fact that it was he and Elsa who broke up the family in the first place. Elsa and Nolan travel to their father’s field station off the Gulf Coast, where a group called the Reversalists obsessively study the undowny bufflehead, a rare duck whose loss of waterproof feathers proves, they say, that evolution is running in reverse. Despite themselves, the Greys urgently trek the island to find the so-called Paradise Duck, their father’s final obsession, all the while grappling with questions of nature and nurture, intimacy and betrayal, progress and forgiveness.
The Innocents by Michael Crummey
A brother and sister are orphaned in an isolated cove on Newfoundland’s northern coastline. Still children with only the barest notion of the outside world, they have nothing but the family’s boat and the little knowledge passed on haphazardly by their mother and father to keep them alive. Richly imagined and compulsively readable, prizewinning author Michael Crummey’s The Innocents is a riveting story of hardship and survival, and an unflinching exploration of the bond between brother and sister. By turns electrifying and heartbreaking, it is a testament to the bounty and barbarity of the world, to the wonders and strangeness of our individual selves.
Sea Wife by Amity Gaige
“Brilliantly breathes life not only into the perils of living at sea, but also into the hidden dangers of domesticity, parenthood, and marriage. What a smart, swift, and thrilling novel.” —Lauren Groff, author of Florida
Juliet is failing to juggle motherhood and her stalled-out dissertation on confessional poetry when her husband, Michael, informs her that he wants to leave his job and buy a sailboat. With their two kids—Sybil, age seven, and George, age two—Juliet and Michael set off for Panama, where their forty-four foot sailboat awaits them.
House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild
For more than seven hundred years, the vast, rambling Trelawney Castle in Cornwall was the magnificent and grand “three dimensional calling card” of the earls of Trelawney. By 2008, it is in a complete state of ruin. Still: the heir to all of it, Kitto, his wife, Jane, their three children, their dog, Kitto’s ancient parents, and his aunt Tuffy Scott, an entomologist who studies fleas, all manage to live there and (barely) keep it going. From the author of The Improbability of Love comes a dazzling novel about an eccentric, dysfunctional family of English aristocrats and their crumbling stately home, demonstrating how the lives and hopes of women can be shaped by the ties of family and love.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
“Powerful. . . . Compelling. . . . Illuminating.” —The Boston Globe
One of Oprah’s Best Books of the Year and a PEN/Hemingway Award winner, Homegoing follows the parallel paths of two half-sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast of Africa to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.