I have a secret. Like Annabelle’s Mom in Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes, I have trouble throwing things away. I frequently worry that we will need or have a use for something that others would typically just toss out. It hurts when my husband insists that we don’t need to keep a shoebox with the other 47 we have stored “just in case” the kids need one for a diorama.
So I’ve been looking forward to Mary Lambert’s Family Game Night with anticipation . . . and a little bit of fear.
The newspapers fell on my sister at breakfast this morning.
A fabulous first line for a novel. It had me sucked in from that moment on. . .
I just sat there, waiting to see if today would be the day the newspapers finally fell. It was the “highs in the mid to upper 70s” pile that came crashing down. The newspapers are organized by weather report, and since it’s almost June, Mom has been adding to the “highs in the mid to upper 70s” pile every day. Lately she’s had to stand on her tiptoes in order to reach the top, and this morning—before she could even add to it—it was already swaying from side to side, back and forth. It looked like a Jenga tower right before someone loses, and today Leslie was the loser.
Annabelle Balog has just finished Seventh Grade. She flirts with boys, texts with her friends, and tries to ignore the mess at home when she is away. She also has a Five-Mile-Radius Rule—she refuses to let anyone from school come within five miles of her house. Her mother is a hoarder, and none of her friends know.
After the newspapers fall on Annabelle’s sister, their parents have a fight of monumental proportions. Her father storms out, announcing that her mother knows what he expects while he’s gone. With that, the household is turned upside-down.
While dealing with this crisis, Mary Lambert’s novel illuminates various emotions and reactions that can exist in a household where one member hoards. Annabelle is embarrassed by her mother and her home, and has reacted to the condition of the rest of the house by refusing to allow any clutter in her room (on the other extreme). She protects her own space from clutter almost religiously, having discovered that her mother will sneak items into her room while she is not home.
Annabelle’s siblings—poor younger sister Leslie, who started the book covered with mildewy newspapers, and older brother Chad—respond to their mother’s lifestyle in different ways. Leslie has nightmares about people dying in piles of clutter, and Chad spends as little time at home as possible.
Annabelle’s mother, who is faced with her husband’s ultimatum, is the character I sympathized with the most throughout the novel. Ms. Lambert adeptly shows the altered priorities of a hoarder in some of the interactions involving Mrs. Balog.
For example, when Leslie is knocked into her cereal bowl by a stack of newspapers, her mother rushes into the kitchen:
“What happened?” Her voice cut through the sound of the running water. I turned to watch Mom fly into the kitchen. It may not look like it, but Mom can really move when she wants to. “No! No, no, no,” she said, rushing to Leslie’s side. But instead of wrapping Leslie in her arms, she started gathering her newspapers.
“Which pile fell?” she demanded.
Things haven’t gotten as bad at our house as they have at Annabelle’s (there are no leaning towers about to collapse on us). But I still acutely felt Mrs. Balog’s pain and discomfort at the thought of making any changes in response to her husband’s demands. I wanted to reach into the book and hug her and tell her that she would be okay.
Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes is Mary Lambert’s first novel, but hopefully we’ll see many more where this came from! You can find out more about Ms. Lambert (including whether her own mom was a hoarder) at www.maryelambert.com.
Now, I think I’ll go recycle the 14 years’ worth of law magazines I have stored in my back bedroom because I’ve been convinced “I’ll read them someday” . . .
Have you read any great books lately?