Book review: Family, edited by Alaina Gougoulis and Ian See

Is blood really thicker than water?

The traditional family structure collapses under the rich and complex families described within this collection of short stories. A diverse mix of contributors represents a range of families and their dynamics for all readers to relate to.

The word ‘family’ cannot even begin to carry the weight of what that word means to some. 

Family: Stories of Belonging suggests it’s not just the people to whom you are related, but people with whom you move through the world. It’s a decentralisation of the family unit as we know it. 

Jackie French and Elaine Harris write about their chosen sisterhood that grew over years of email exchanges, their voice of friendship. Harris writes, ‘Some siblings know instinctively how to hurt: adopted sisters know how to avoid inflicting pain.’

It’s the same with neighbours and housemates in stories by Fiona Murphy and Ellen van Neerven, which put the nature verses nurture debate back on the table. 

Love of family is seen, heard and even tasted as Jaclyn Crupi so tenderly describes her Nonna’s lasagne and potato gnocchi. Recipes passed down through generations can cross oceans and make you feel at home, but reducing the divide of distance in a migrant family, Crupi writes, is an impossible task.

And not all families get along. The impact of tragedies within them can be felt for generations. 

JP Pomare delves into the spectres of the brain, where culture and stories weave with memories and myths. 

Going even deeper is Daniel Browning’s Country Is Kin, making the reader stop and listen to the world we are in. Look around and you will see, family is everywhere.

Then there are the families we choose – those family members who share a love that crosses all racial divides, and just radiate joy, like Bruno, friend of Alice Pung’s and godfather to her children.

Antoinette Lattouf discusses the meaning of the expression ‘blood is thicker than water’ and that this proverb is actually not so straightforward. Although it suggests that family bonds are stronger than other relationships, the origins of the proverb also draw a conclusion that bonds formed shedding blood together on a battlefield are more powerful than the bond formed sharing a womb.

This rings true in Amy Remeikis’ The Broken Parents Club, which cuts deeply into children of broken homes and how they form families out of friends in similar circumstances. 

So many people are longing to belong, yearning for connection. Family: Stories of Belonging offers varying forms of family and storytelling for the reader to connect with. 

Read: Comedy reviews: Geraldine Hickey, Stephen K Amos, Mel Buttle, MICF

Blood connections or otherwise, family can break you open or put you back together again. This collection will bring you closer to whoever defines the word ‘family’ for you.

Family: Stories of Belonging edited by Alaina Gougoulis and Ian See
Publisher: Text Publishing
ISBN: 9781922458032
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288pp
Publication date: 18 April 2023
RRP: $34.99

Lisette Drew is a writer, theatre maker and youth literature advocate, who has worked nationally and overseas on over 50 theatrical productions. Her play, Breakwater, was shortlisted for two playwriting awards and her novel The Cloud Factory was longlisted for The Hawkeye Prize. In 2022 she received a Kill Your Darlings Mentorship and was a City of Melbourne Writer-in-Residence. Lisette shares her love for stories and storytelling running writing and theatre workshops for children.