A Friend of the Family is narrated by Pete, a successful internist, living in a well-to-do suburb in New Jersey for over twenty years. At the opening of the novel he is awaiting the result of a lawsuit for medical malpractice and being physically threatened by his patient’s brother as he passes time at a beach. For some reason, he is living in the studio above the garage, separated from his wife and son, marking time with his elderly mother and very few patients. What happened to this guy?
Pete’s life is a success story: med-school, long marriage, and after many years of trying they have a son; Alec. Pete and Elaine are good friends with Joe and Iris Stern, their families have vacationed together and celebrated many holidays. In recalling a day in 1991, Pete says: I always spoke with authority and because I always had a clear sense of what was right and what was wrong. Elaine used to appreciate that about me. Until my recent troubles, I’d always had a pretty good idea of what good would come of things, and what bad, and I knew how to prepare.”
His certainty is at the root of his fall. He knows what is best for his son, hoping he will do well in school, in sports, get a four-year degree, marry and have children. Thus far, Alec has defied his father’s desires for him, he’s lazy, he has been given pretty much everything, he’s angry and ungrateful. Like many parents, Pete and Elaine have excuses for Alec. And yet, Pete remains undaunted, determined to protect his son from bad decisions. His good intentions go terribly awry.
In the course of trying to protect his son, Pete’s judgment destroys his friendship with Joe, and indirectly causes him to lose a patient. The problem lies with Joe’s daughter, Lauren, who committed a terrible crime as a teenager and has returned to her parents’ home fourteen years later. Pete has built a sand castle of success, one to which many people have aspired, and he brings the tide in to wash it away. Grodstein jumps forward and back in time successfully, telling the tale as Pete remembers it, revealing piece by piece where things failed. It was a pretty good read.