It’s been said that families are like fudge—mostly sweet with a few nuts. If we’re lucky, the balance between the two is just right, but even then, we have moments when we wonder what it would be like to have a different set of relatives. Reading gives us that opportunity. For the span of a few hundred pages, we can laugh and argue and cry with someone else’s family. Fiction also allows us a liberty that reality does not. We can turn our backs forever on the families we hate and choose our favorites among the ones we love. So without a shred of guilt, I offer you a short list of some of my favorite families in contemporary literature.
The family with whom I’d most like to share a meal is the Michelli family from Kristen Heitzmann’s trilogy Secrets, Unforgotten, and Echoes. The iconic Italian family, they live loud, laugh often, and love well. With culinary masters Nonna Antonia and grandson Lance, the food shared around the table is so delicious that the descriptions alone made my mouth water. This family’s friendly banter and boisterous arguments made reading their story a delight. I’d never turn down an invitation to break bread with them. Main character Lance Michelli tells heroine Rese Barrett that food is about more than hunger, “It’s connection, acceptance, relationship.” The Michelli family offers heaping portions of all three to anyone who drops by.
The family I’d most want helping me pursue my dreams is the O’Malley family from Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series. These seven siblings, related by choice, not by birth, understand the reality of what it’s like to have no one to count on but each other. They appreciate the significance of a dream, recognize potential, and pour heart and soul into bringing a dream to life. But they don’t limit their efforts to themselves. Once a significant other joins the picture, their dreams become the family’s goal as well. Marcus, the oldest and guardian of the family, explains: “We are a family that believes in fulfilling dreams…And we don’t believe in small dreams.” All right, O’Malleys, count me in.
The family with whom I’d most want to plan an outing is the McGuire family from Susan Wiggs’ Table for Five. An unlikely couple, Sean McGuire and Lily Robinson end up creating a safe and loving environment for the Holloway kids to grow up in. Though Lily’s need for structure and discipline often clashes with Sean’s thirst for fun and adventure, the combination of them together gives the three orphaned Holloway siblings a secure, laughter-filled haven in which to heal. This family knows how to have fun precisely because they’ve lost so much at the outset. Every outing is special because they don’t forget how lucky they are to have each other. Spending time with the McGuires would be a constant reminder of how precious family time really is.
The family I’d most want on my neighborhood watch is the Sharpe and Donovan tag-team from Carla Neggers’ Saint’s Gate and Heron’s Cove. Emma Sharpe’s perfect balance of quiet insight and decisive action combined with Colin Donovan’s experience and no-nonsense attitude guarantees the bad guys will think twice before moving into their neighborhood. Not only do these two FBI agents make it their business to know what’s going on in their hometown, they go out of their way to find the trouble before it finds anyone else. And if they’re called away to parts unknown, they leave behind two detective brothers who can keep an eye out in their absence. Having these two families in my neighborhood would make enduring the long Maine winters well worth the effort.
The family with whom I’d most want to ride the range is the Thocco clan from Deborah Smith’s A Gentle Rain. By no means a typical family, this band of social misfits creates a bond thicker than blood. Their love of the land and their loyalty to each other create a wonderful place to get away from the fast-paced world. This family’s strength is born of its weaknesses. Each one sees the potential in the other, and together they find hope. Ben Thocco states it most clearly: “Most people look at a leaky soul and see nothing but trickles of good intentions fallin’ on bone-dry earth. But these folks? They see a gentle rain.” Spending time on the Thocco Ranch offers indisputable evidence that we can discover beauty from ashes and gain strength from adversity.
Now it’s your turn. Tell me who your favorite fictional families are and why. I look forward to hearing from you.
~Vickie Price Taylor
**This Op-Ed first appeared on in July 2013*