Families and their dynamics offer such fertile ground for fiction. Most of us have a family in one form or another, and many of us are mystified by the differences between them, not least when we’re introduced to them by our partners. Marie Aubert’s darkly funny Grown Ups explores that most febrile of family dynamics, sibling bonds and rivalries, taking place over what should have been a happy, celebratory weekend.
Olea says nothing, I can see that she’s thinking about something else, but I feel proud, I understand children, I know what you’re supposed to do
Ida is on her way to the family summer cabin where her mother and her partner will be joining the rest of the family for a sixty-fifth birthday celebration the following day, all set to enjoy the weekend. She has something to say but her sister beats her to it. Marthe announces she’s pregnant, something with which Ida knows she should be delighted having consoled Marthe through several miscarriages. Single and childless, Ida has just passed her fortieth birthday, taking herself off to a fertility clinic in the hope of freezing her eggs, news she’d planned to share this weekend. Instead, a flame of resentment is lit and Ida sets about charming six-year-old Olea, Kristoffer’s daughter from his first marriage, who clearly has a chilly relationship with Marthe. There’s a multitude of things for Ida to seethe about: Marthe’s incessant maternal stomach caressing, the changes she and Kristoffer have made to the cabin without consulting Ida, memories of her own affairs with men who refused to leave their families for her and the constant concerned attention showered on Marthe by their mother. Drink, of course, only fans the flames and Ida sets about wreaking havoc.
What if there’s something else, something different from everything I’d imagined. Something a little more ordinary. Something a little happier
Told through Ida’s voice, Aubert’s punchy novella is both very funny and very dark. Ida finds ways to get under her sister’s skin that only a sibling could: manipulating the affections of Olea whose nose is clearly out of joint at her stepmother’s news; sabotaging Marthe’s attempts to impress their mother then drunkenly stepping well beyond the bounds of sisterly loyalty. As Ida narrates her own story, dropping in details of their shared childhood in which concerns for Marthe’s health commandeered her mother’s attention, we begin to understand the foundation of this particular brand of sibling rivalry, and now, it seems, Marthe will have the happy family that eludes Ida. Aubert delivers her story with a great deal of black humour, injecting it with a feeling of foreboding which builds towards the inevitable showdown then leaving her readers with an ending I construed as a hopeful. A very smart slice of fiction which may feel a little too close to home for some.
Pushkin Press UK: London 9781782276531 160 pages Paperback