- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; 2nd printing edition (February 10, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743254430
- ISBN-13: 978-0743254434
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 275 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx Paperback – February 10, 2004
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Alex Kotlowitz author of There Are No Children Here A remarkable piece of reportage about a tucked-away corner of America... It's one compelling read.
Vogue A magnificent tour de force...An insider's narrative that grips from the start.
Janet Maslin The New York Times Mesmerizing...The artistry of this frank, enthralling book lies in the utter simplicity -- and careful, subtle selectivity -- with which LeBlanc plainly describes the determining events in what will now be unforgettable lives.
Newsweek Keenly observed, pitch-perfect...A dense, rich narrative that reads like a novel.
Los Angeles Times A nonfiction Middlemarch of the underclass...A new benchmark in the field of immersion journalism.
About the Author
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's first book, Random Family, was a New York Times Bestseller, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the winner of The Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and the Ridenhour Book Prize. LeBlanc's work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Esquire, Elle, Spin, The Source, The Village Voice, and other magazines. LeBlanc lives in Manhattan.
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As I've noted, "Random Family" is a compelling read. There are, however, a couple of things that make me uneasy about this "instant classic" (the book was first published in 2003).
"Random Family" is presented as non-fiction, but of course there is no way to be sure how accurately reality is depicted. This is always a difficult issue, but particularly troublesome here. Author Leblanc states in her end note that "Random Family" is a "book of nonfiction. I was present for much of what is depicted...." She also says that she relied on hundreds of hours of written and taped reviews, and that descriptions of experiences and exchanges were confirmed through primary and secondary interviews.
This all sounds authoritative, and I'm not necessarily accusing Leblanc of intentional mendacity, but of course the reader has no practical way to audit her source material. Even granting her 100% accuracy of recall and transcription there are still a couple of points worth noting.
She says that (a) this is a work of non-fiction; (b) she (the author) was present at many of the scenes described; and (c) the author does not in fact appear in any of these scenes. Alas, this is a contradiction on its face.
There is an elegiac quality to some of the reminiscing she transcribes in terms of things like the attractiveness of men and women, the wealth of drug dealers, and so on. How much of this is gilding the memories, a natural thing for people to do when they talk about their pasts?
I am also disturbed by the narrative tone of the book. It partially sounds like anthropology, but in fact at best is nonfiction reportage. The anthropological tone---almost like Margaret Meade or Oscar Lewis's Mexico studies---tends to manipulate the reader to put aside normal skepticism, and also to regard the characters in the book as quaint "subjects"---rather than the sign of the failure of our society and culture that they are. This is voyeurism, plain and simple.
"Random Family" features third-person omniscient narrative---the narrator is apparently all-seeing and all-knowing. Every time this narrative (outside of dialog and memories) slipped in the demotic argot of the characters in the book---for example, "broke night" is a standard phrase used in the book to describe staying up all night---I was jarred.
In the end, this is a compelling book and a great read that left me sad for the waste of lives and human talent that it describes, and also with some doubts about the tone and substance of the narration.
Review © Harold Davis