The dialogue feels believable and the points at which it halts are realistic too. This is not a family in which members hesitate to hang up the phone or walk out of the room.
Things get awkward, too, whether that means having to get out of the car because you’ve not gotten close enough to the ticket machine or having to accept hasty decisions that family members make for their own convenience.
Several years ago, I heard Bonnie Burnard read from A Good House and she spoke about how many books were written about families that don’t work, families that splinter and do not endure. But she wanted to write about the families that did work, the people who stayed.
It’s easy to imagine that that’s the kind of story Ali Bryan is most interested in telling too. The kind of story that provokes the use of the word ‘heartwarming’. Maybe even ‘charming’.
Where there’s vomit, it smells like spaghetti AND rum. And where there’s an angsty daughter, she has a parakeet on her shoulder. Sometimes elements are predictable: hospital cafeterias smell like French fries and disinfectant. Other times, not so predictable: one day, a twentysomething is vaping and playing “Grand Theft Auto” and, the next, they’re buying a car seat.
But it’s important not to dig too deep into these characters, where the potential fracture could split and tell that other kind of story. So when there is pain in the story, it’s kept at a distance.
For instance, June is tremendously preoccupied with parenting her adult children, who have gotten taller but haven’t necessarily grown up. And she accepts the fallout from her children’s shortsighted decisions and keeps her eye on short-term solutions. But she keeps her own sorrows at a distance. Readers learn early on that she was adopted, and as long as she remains at a distance from this, readers do too.
“The words resounded in her mind. Another time. That’s when she was adopted. When underwear was mostly white and people had dress-coats and nice handwriting. And she was certain that babies from another time were conceived out of something akin to love and not one of some knuckle-sucking lust-driven Kardashian-waxed porn.”
What must have been painful is relegated to “another time”.
This is partly because other characters have more pressing familial concerns, which cause the boundaries of “family” to shift unexpectedly and dramatically, as one change sparks another.
“I’m tired of news,” June replied. “I don’t want there to be any more news for a long time.”
But it’s also partly because The Figgs is a snapshot of one period of time. The characters aren’t the brooding, reflective sort and the narrative is constructed from a series of detailed and dramatic scenes.
It’s always readable, consistently entertaining, and The Figgs stick together.