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Comical family life can make for great stories

By Staff | Mar 6, 2009

Not all dysfunctional families are alike, but sometimes the funniest books are those based on the author’s own family. This month, I am writing about two of them.

Charlie Sobczak once again shows his ability to write in any genre he chooses to write in. In this latest book, “Chain of Fools”, published by Indigo Press, he tells a story full of crazy characters, ridiculous predicaments, graphic language and pretty sleazy stuff, some of which is based on his family’s own past.

After writing about natural predators in his last book, Charlie fills this book with the human kind, along with lots of profanity, humor and ludicrous situations. As a fan of Donald Westlake who wrote dozens of crime novels and whose bumbling lowlife characters usually did more harm to themselves than to their victims, I enjoyed the same nonchalant, alternately disdainful and accepting attitude of both the fictional and actual author toward the book’s characters in “Chain of Fools”.

The premise of the story is that Charlie Stupidnski is writing his family’s story, beginning with his grandmother, known as One-Eyed Maggie, who earned her living as a prostitute, despite her physical appearance and nasty disposition. While living in a cheap motel, presumably writing, Charlie spends most of his time getting drunk with his friend, Diz, a Chippewa Indian, and playing the slot machines in hopes of winning a car. Eventually they do win the car and use it to go to Mount Rushmore, where Diz makes his mark on American history.

There is nothing sacred in this story or in the language, and the characters who come along for the ride will stick in your memory, perhaps because they will remind you of a black sheep relation of your own. Charlie Sobczak says he based some of the characters on his family history that he dug up while checking out genealogical records and made up the rest, which proves you can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and you can break a chain of fools. Having read his previous five books, I’m impressed with Charlie’s range as a writer, whether he’s writing about the environment, Sanibel, families, love, religion or any of the other subjects he has taken on.

The second book, “Wife of the North”, written by Judith O’Reilly, published by Public Affairs, is also about a family living in chaos, at least temporarily. When O’Reilly’s husband persuades her to leave London and her exciting journalist job to move to Northumberland to a small cottage where she can raise her two sons and expected baby while he spends much of his time traveling, she thinks she must be insane, but she agrees. While none of the characters are quite as bawdy as in the first book, she does write bluntly about her experiences. The book is about her misadventures combining two cottages into one, moving three times during the renovation, helping her kids fit into school, trying to relate to the farmers’ wives to find a friend, delivering her baby and suffering post-partum depression, all while trying to hold a family together while also remembering who she is. She writes about her misgivings and missteps with humor and a sometimes detached eye as she judges her surroundings and herself with wry wit. Because she kept a blog during the entire experience, her writing seems fresh and close to the bone. Anyone who has made a big change in his surroundings and lifestyle and has had to find their niche in a new community will relate well to this book.