Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Real Happy Family by Caeli Wolfson Widger (4 stars)

About Real Happy Family

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Lake Union/New Harvest (March 4, 2014)

Part-time actress, full-time party girl Lorelei Branch isn’t famous yet, but she’s perfected a Hollywood lifestyle full of clubbing, fashion, and the latest juice cleanse. When Robin, her sister-in-law and agent, throws a plum job her way, Lorelei jumps at the chance and auditions to be the new girl on television’s hottest reality show, Flo’s Studio.

Enter Colleen, Lorelei’s pill-popping mother, who wants nothing more than to see her daughter win the fame and glory she never had a chance to pursue herself. But Lorelei’s dream of becoming the next reality star is dashed when she loses the spot on Flo’s Studio to a stunning African woman. In an attempt to defend her daughter against what she calls a rigged contest, Colleen goes ballistic and delivers a racist rant on live television, sparking a national media frenzy. Lorelei flees the limelight, humiliated and broke, with her slacker boyfriend Don and heads for Reno where she begins to self-destruct.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Branch family starts to come apart at the seams. Colleen and her husband, Carl, are quietly drifting apart. Darren, Lorelei’s older half-brother, is stuck in Florida working on a contentious film set while his wife, Robin, continues the tedious regimen of fertility drugs meant to help them conceive a child. Desperate to bring the family together again and make things right, Colleen hatches a plan to stage an intervention for Lorelei on the reality show Real Happy Family. Soon the entire Branch family is entangled in a mission to bring the prodigal daughter back into the fold.

Will Lorelei ever forgive Colleen? Will Real Happy Family air their most sensational intervention yet? All roads lead to a seedy Reno hotel room, where a reality TV crew is waiting.

“Cinematic in its rendering, Real Happy Family glides effortlessly between the lives of characters living the underbelly and upper crust of the Hollywood dream, and the bottom dwellers who feed off the fallout. With the precision of an expert director, Widger leads the reader gawking and cringing past the train wrecks of Colleen and Lorelei, but exposes their hearts, and somehow leaves you cheering for a real happy ending for them all.” —Chandra Hoffman, author of Chosen

“Reminiscent of The Corrections, Caeli Wolfson Widger’s Real Happy Family is everything you hope for from a first novel but rarely find: a must-keep-reading-even-though-it’s-2 am-plot packed with turbo-flawed yet loveable characters, all capped off with electric prose. I could not put it down. Had me hooked from page one. Bound to be read and talked about from coast to coast. I feel lucky to have been in on the secret before the rest of the country discovers Widger’s smart and funny debut.” —Deirdre Shaw, author of Love or Something Like It

Real Happy Family is the twenty-first century version of Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust, a report in 2013 on what has happen to West’s Hollywood—and America—during the last seventy-five years.  Like West’s book, it is both an anatomy of the times and a prophecy of our continuing confusion.” —Jay Martin, author of Nathanael West: The Art of His Life


Lorelei Branch's desire to be famous is second only to her mother's (Colleen) obsession with making sure it happens. Yet, in a strange twist of fate, her mother is the ticking time bomb that has almost single-handedly destroyed both of them. 

Unfortunately, Lorelei and Colleen machinations have far-reaching effects. Lorelei's dad appears to be a helpless bystander while her step-brother fights his own insecurities. Then, as if the family wasn't already drowning, an opportunity presents itself--a reality show. 

Real Happy Family chronicles the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, giving us a fictional glance into desperation. Although I must admit, it felt very real--too real, and depressing, at times. In truth, situations very similar to this happen all too often. As much as I wanted to give up on these characters and quit reading, I couldn't put the book down. There's something so very raw and dark about it. 

It's definitely not a light, breezy read; but it is an interesting take on the depths of human depravity (if you'll pardon me the overused phrasing). Life is not always pretty, and there are countless people who struggle with addiction, obsession, and unhealthy life choices. Sometimes a glimpse into why, although not sweet and heartwarming, is intriguing. Such is the case with Real Happy Family

If messed-up characters appeal to you, especially in the context of excellent writing, then I highly recommend this one. Just go in prepared and follow-it-up with a sugary read if necessary. 

Rating: 4 stars

About the Author

Caeli Wolfson Widger received her MFA in poetry from the University of Montana. Her work has appeared in Another Chicago Magazine and The Madison Review.

Follow Caeli on Twitter and Goodreads.

Thanks to TLC for my review copy.

Note: I received a complimentary copy for review purposes. A positive review was not requested or guaranteed; the opinions expressed are my own.

Please visit other stops on the Real Happy Family blog tour page.


heathertlc said...

It's sad that drama like this is all too real for some people. Still, sounds like a great read!

Thanks for being on the tour!