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Familiar Hardcover – 2012

49 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; Limited Edition edition (2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1555975356
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975357
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,589,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J. Robert Lennon is the author of a story collection, Pieces For The Left Hand, and seven novels, including Mailman, Castle, and Familiar. He holds an MFA from the University of Montana, and has published short fiction in The New Yorker, Harper's, Playboy, Granta, The Paris Review, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. He has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, and his story "The Rememberer" inspired the CBS detective series Unforgettable. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, and The London Review of Books, and he lives in Ithaca, New York, where he teaches writing at Cornell University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Calfornia Shrink on October 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
Pick up Familiar and say goodbye to the world as you know it. Once I started reading this book, I found it impossible to put down. It grips you and doesn't let go. Best (or worst) of all, it makes you actually start to feel the way the characters feel-strange, on edge, questioning everything. This isn't a horror novel, but I found the last third of the book, or thereabouts, completely terrifying, and the ending stunned me. A hugely thrilling read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Gary Schroeder on February 11, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Familiar" uses the conceit of what appears to be an alternate reality to explore a middle aged woman's regrets and disappointments. The alternate reality device is a crack in a windshield that alters Elisa Brown's perception of her life during a business trip. It may be that she's crossed some sort of rift between universes, or (more prosaically) she's having a nervous breakdown. Whichever it is, she's thrown into a life different from the one that she's been used to for the last 45 years.

Author Robert Lennon gives us more than one way of viewing the cause of what's happening to Elisa. One is supernatural, the other not. As far as the story's concerned, it doesn't really mater what the answer is. What's important is that her new circumstances force Elisa to carefully reexamine fateful choices and accidental occurrences in her life. These include her career choices, her relationship to her husband and her children, all of which are quite different in the "new" life she finds herself living.

In the course of watching Elisa navigate a different life, "Familiar" covers a wide span of topics, including unhappy marriages and infidelity, couples therapy, dysfunctional families, spiteful, ungrateful children, body self-image, wish fulfillment, video games, internet culture, sci-fi conventions, and the differences between what is real and imagined in everyday life. Lennon's covering a lot (and I mean a lot) of ground here, especially considering that "Familiar" clocks in at a relatively brief 225 pages.

I think he pulls it off. Elisa's character is well developed, complex and feels quite substantial. The emotional turmoil that her alternate timeline forces her to confront is painful and sometimes bleak, not unlike real life for those of us stuck in a single timeline.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lorraine Berry on October 21, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found myself feeling unsettled several times while reading FAMILIAR. The idea that I could find myself transferred into a body not my own, with all the details of my life changed--except for those people who had been familiar to me--was unnerving. And I feel I can't reveal too many details without spoiling this great experience for anyone else.
But I couldn't put this book down.
Lennon has a real gift for writing prose that draws you along, making it one of those books where you keep saying, "only one more chapter," and then wondering where your afternoon is gone as you realize you're several chapters past the original pledge.
Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eric Selby on December 30, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I read a review of this novel in The New York Times I was reluctant to buy it because I've little interest in science fiction or what I consider adult fantasy. But I decided I'd try it. And I certainly have no regrets even though I think the ending could have been condensed considerably. Elisa Brown is in an unhappy--or somewhat unhappy--marriage to Derek, quite possibly a marriage that becomes damaged by the sudden death of a few years earlier of their younger son, Silas, buried in Wisconsin where they were living at the time but now in New York State. They are college-type professionals and have an older son, Sam who for a while is gay. (No, he does not go to some fundamentalist sexual reconstruction whatever! I will leave the mystery of the other Sam for you, the potential reader.
Suddenly one day while driving Elisa changes to a different Elisa, driving a different and new car. So now she must adjust somehow to making her way with Derek--he's the same Derek--without letting on that she is not who she was.
Were this plot in the hands of a lesser novelist, it would have crashed for me right there, just a quarter of the way through the novel. I have little toleration for novels that take me into any type of "twilight zone." But the Lennon novel is not a "twilight zone" read.
The novel is essentially about parenting, about how inadequate adults are at it, how ill equipped we are, how what we'd envisioned ourselves to be as parents is unrealistic. Elisa and Derek, the newly transformed Elisa, now have two adult sons. This is not a spoiler since all this happens soon on in the novel. Yes, Silas is alive. And Sam is straight. And they are living in San Francisco where Silas has a company that makes computer games, maybe successfully so, maybe not.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Cary B. Barad on December 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
This novel is probably best characterized as "science fiction light"--which means that it will be fully acceptable to readers (like myself) who typically have little interest in "real" science fiction. Because it is written from the perspective of an educated adult woman and her middle class family, we can fully identify with the characters, and the writing itself takes on a edgy flavor which is uniquely appealing and contagious. Although time travel and related concepts are very tricky to write about, Lennon succeeds in keeping everything reasonably straight while keeping his readers entertained. Highly recommended for discerning fiction lovers.
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