Family Planning

“Resolutely unsentimental and very entertaining”

The New Yorker

Family Planning was the second of the largely epistolary novels, but this time the reason for the characters choosing letters as their preferred form of communication is quite different from in Home Thoughts. Here we have the parents and three of the four children of a crazy family all trying to hide from each other because none of them wants to take responsibility for looking after the fourth and oldest child, the schizophrenic Raymond. Yet, these people are incapable of breaking off contact with each other. The truth is they’re fascinated with each other and all drawn, as if by a centrifugal force, toward the embattled relationship of Mother and Father. Hence the constant letters and sporadic, but always explosive meetings. Then into the family come two forces for change, the American husband of the only daughter, the comically Italian girlfriend of one of the younger twins. Their attempts to get their partners out of this suffocating family only serve to reveal the underlying dynamic at work, and lead, in the end, to catastrophe. The book was put together on the basis of observations of people I know all too well and my interest, I confess, was entirely in the family relationships, not the schizophrenic himself. Only years later did I discover that there was a whole literature on the parents and siblings of schizophrenics, a literature that suggests connections between family and mental illness. But that’s another question.

Short takes

Incisive and insightful … Parks has an unflinching eye that penetrates like an x-ray

The New York Times

Funny, compassionate, frightening and precisely observant

Times Literary Supplement

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