A polished and refreshingly unsentimental debut, Shari Goldhagen's Family and Other Accidents follows the fragile relationship of brothers Jack and Connor Reed over a 25-year period. Jack, the older brother by 10 years and a lawyer in their deceased father's firm, becomes responsible for Connor after the death of their mother when Connor is 15 years old. Written from the points of view of both brothers, with illuminating contributions from their girlfriends, wives and children, the novel isn't idealistic about the brothers' lives before the deaths of their parents. Though Jack becomes Connor's official caretaker, he was often in the role while the parents were alive. Instead of a tragic story about orphans, the reader finds a realistic, often funny, story about the flexible and obscure rules of brotherly intimacy.
While Connor desperately longs for domesticity fathering his first child and marrying while still in graduate school he is unable to articulate his emotional needs to his brother. And Jack, rapidly following in their father's workaholic footsteps, simultaneously grasps at relationships and keeps them at arm's length, going through girlfriends like quicksilver while climbing the corporate ladder. He shows his concern for Connor with regular monetary support rather than regular communication, a maneuver Connor is painfully aware of. Both find ways to fill their loneliness by creating their own families made up of strong, immensely likeable women and devoted, confident children. But they discover that no child, wife or job can completely fill the space left empty by a sibling's emotional distance, and they both manage to fail those families in familiar and heartbreaking ways. The Reed brothers pull together and split apart with maddeningly little reason, but when more powerful issues present themselves they manage to rely on each other more often than not. Goldhagen shines a shrewd light on the complexity of familial love, and maintains a realistic view right up to the novel's end, when Jack and Connor pass on a bit of hard-earned, and possibly too late, wisdom to a new generation. This assured debut marks Goldhagen as an author to watch for her deft prose and unflinching take on the modern family. Kristy Kiernan's debut novel will be published by Berkley in 2007.