By Stacey Nerdin
Consider the word "family." Now consider how unique it is for a word to evoke the same powerful response in individuals with such different ideas of its definition. It's not as if I asked you to consider the word "potato." Everyone can agree without discussion that a potato is an edible tuber. And although people might vary in their relative enjoyment of potatoes, the response to hearing the word is rarely powerful. But the notion of "family" is quite different.
Based on our personal histories and experiences, each of us has an individual (yet similarly definite) idea of family. Family is something we long for, run to, or run from. Family is our blood, our kith and kin, or else a community of loved ones we have chosen for ourselves. Only we have had to maneuver the complex web of relationships within our own family, and yet we can appreciate the familiar patterns we see in those with experiences similar to ours.
I recently became intrigued with this idea of family as a human experience that simultaneously unites and distinguishes us from each other. And as an avid reader, I began to wonder how authors use patterns in family life to tell a story and connect to their readers. I also wondered how often readers see their idea of family reflected in the works they read, and if or when they do, how accurate or distorted the image might be.
This year at Estella's Revenge, I plan to explore several themes of families in fiction: the mother/daughter relationship, families in peril or dealing with tragedy, single-parent families, fathers and sons, non-traditional families, families with a specific heritage (religious, ethnic, or otherwise), and others. Each month will introduce a different discussion, and I hope that as I study and share, we can each add another layer of perspective to our reading. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and I welcome any feedback you'd like to offer. I look forward to a thought-provoking 2009 at Estella's Revenge!