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Q&A with Laurie Frankel - Family Family

By Mo Kendall

We are delighted to welcome Laurie Frankel to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release, Family Family, released on the 23rd January 2024.

World-famous TV actress India Allwood causes more than a stir when her debut

movie role involves a story about adoption. The stir becomes a storm when India

does the unthinkable: she tells a journalist that the movie was bad.

India speaks as an adoptive mum. She knows that there are many ways to form a

family. She knows that representation for this is needed instead of repeating

tired stories of adoption being undesirable and tragic.

But few people know all the ways in which she knows this.

India has found herself caught between the social media trolls, the pro-lifers, the

pro-choicers, the paparazzi, the studio executives, and her agent. She’s wanted

to be an actress her whole life. Living the dream that she has worked so hard for

now supports her and her ten year-old twins. Could she lose it all for speaking

her truth?

This wonderful story of what makes family is interwoven with funny and

poignant human observations. Its smart dialogue and back-and-forth format

between the present week and younger-India keep an engaging pace through

the various stories told through this highly enjoyable read. There’s plenty to

stoke discussions around the industry, privacy, representation, parenting, and

more. Family Family shows that, whilst there are many ways to form a family,

family is always complicated.

Hi Laurie, welcome to The Reading Corner! Thank you for making time to talk with us about Family Family. I absolutely loved India Allwood, her story, and all the stories that are within and around hers. I’m sure that our members will love it too.

Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words!

Family, and what makes a family a family, is a theme running through your books and other writing. It’s something we each have our own stories around, and the characters in Family Family have diverse experiences of how families are formed, as well as how they live and love. What do you think draws you to this theme?

It’s true — diverse family is what I am always writing about, even when diverse family isn't the per se topic as it is with this one. Families are endlessly fascinating: Not always but usually they share genetics (nature). And not always but usually they share most of the nurture bits too, at least when we’re growing up. But family members, as everyone knows, are often wildly different from one another nonetheless. We like to think of family as the most important thing — we call close friends “chosen family” or we say “she’s like a sister to me” — but our actual families are people with whom we often have very fraught and complicated relationships. Myself, I think family, blood-related and otherwise, is who you’re stuck with, for better and for worse, through love and everything else too, and therefore there’s always a lot there to write about with great humour and great heart.

I was really drawn into, and moved by, India’s story. There was a lot that I related to as a daughter, as a sibling, and as a single mum — as well as a lot that I learned from the experiences that are different to any of my own. I was also interested to read what you share about your own story in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. How was it for you to write something drawing from your own experiences of family, and close to your heart?

I am very lucky to be leading a tremendously boring life. This is exactly how you want your life to be, but it’s not how you want your novel to be. With this one, I drew heavily from my deeply held convictions and passions regarding family and adoption but not at all from my own very boring plot, so everything that actually happens in this book is made up. It’s exactly as you say about your reading experience, this balance between what you relate to and what you learn from circumstances and perspectives different from your own. I write the same way. There’s much I adapt from my own experiences and perspectives, and that feels both familiar and uncomfortable at once. And then there’s so much I make up or research then make up or patchwork together. Every character I write has roots in me. And every character who makes the final cut has started speaking for themselves eventually.

I think a lot of readers will, like me, love the astute observations about people that are peppered through the book. For example, about characters’ inner thoughts, or real intentions behind what they say. Do you enjoy people-watching?

People-watching is the best, be they actual people I’m actually watching or pretend people I’m watching only in my head. As I say: not right away, but eventually, characters start speaking for themselves and making their own decisions, and watching them is like watching friends you know really well but who still surprise you. It’s also like reading — good characters say and do things that make me gasp in shock and wonder, like when I read, as if what they said or did didn’t just come out of my own fingers.

We meet more characters that India can in some way call family as we go through the book — including some of the original characters as adults/nearly-adults. Where/where else do you draw inspiration for your characters?

I love to write children. I think kids are often sold short, underestimated, when in fact kids, unlike grown-ups, have smarts without the checks and balances of social niceties and workplace politics and the need to navigate the world as a responsible adult. And then I like to watch those kids grow up because we all change so completely between childhood and adulthood that it’s hard to remember we’re the same person, but there’s also always traces of what came before in what comes next. And that’s fascinating.

India gets herself caught in a huge, messy social media storm! How do you find navigating social media as an author?

Short answer: uuuuugggghhhhh. Somewhat more articulate answer: I’m not wild about social media, not as a user and especially not as a writer, never mind as a parent. As a user, I find it to be a frustrating time suck, which also makes me feel crap about myself, so I write with a book next to me, and when my brain needs to stretch and wander, as everyone’s brain does, instead of alt-tabbing over to social media or turning to my phone, I read a few pages of whatever novel I’m in the middle of.  As a writer, I am a lover of and believer in the long form. I can’t say what I want to say in a short story, never mind in a tweet. I’m going to need 350 pages and ten hours of your life, but I promise to make it worth your while. Whatever else they are, social media posts are short, so they don’t lend themselves to complications and shades of grey and thoughtful nuance, aka the truth, aka the reason we read/were put on this earth. So thank heavens for the novel! (As for my parental loathing of social media, that’s probably both self explanatory and self evident.)

The end of the book also offers a little glimpse into what the future holds for India Allwood. Do you have any plans for another book to follow her new venture?

In general, I like to leave readers satisfied but without every single question answered. Life always has lingering mysteries and things we have to live without knowing, and I like my books (both the ones I write and the ones I read) to mirror that. That said, I’d love to do a sequel if readers are interested, so if you finish this one and want more, please, please let me know.

Like characters in Family Family, you’ve pointed out that just representation isn’t enough: we need good representation which doesn’t portray adoption as something always done as a last resort, or that is traumatic, or that leads to more trauma. Are there any particular books that you can recommend that similarly depict positive adoption stories? Or any particular authors that you would recommend to readers who enjoy your work?

Yes! Claire Keegan’s Foster and Small Things Like These, Helen DeWitt’s The English Understand Wool, Barbara Kingsolver, especially Demon Copperhead and The Bean Trees, all of Nicole Chung, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Sarah Sentilles’s Stranger Care, James McBride’s The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, and, honestly, lots of Dickens and Shakespeare.

Thanks so much again for taking the time to answer these questions, Laurie. Finally, where can The Reading Corner members get themselves a copy of Family Family?

Thank you so much for asking these questions. And thank you to you and to everyone for reading. It means the world. As of January 23, 2024, you can find Family Family wherever you love to find books. If you want a signed copy, you can request one where I love to find books, my local indie, Queen Anne Book Company:

Laurie Frankel is a New York Times best-selling author and essayist. Her previous

four novels have won her awards, been translated into more than 25 languages,

and been optioned for film and television. Family is a core theme through her

previous novels and, of course, central to her latest book Family Family, due out

23rd January 2024.

A former college professor, Laurie lives with her family in Seattle, Washington.

Find out more about her and her writing via her website , or on Instagram.


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