The Appeal of Family Secrets

First of all, Squiders, let me apologize for the lack of a post at the end of last week. I’m afraid Leonard Nimoy’s death threw me off my game, and I may have spent a lot of time trolling Tumblr for memorials and occasionally tearing up. He was such a good, kind man, very talented, in a number of areas, and we were–are–very fond of him in the Star Trek community.

RIP, Leonard.

On to family secrets. I almost consider this its own genre. Not speculative fiction, no–more general or contemporary literature. I admit I am not a big fan of general/contemporary literature, mostly because I live in the real world and don’t usually feel the need to read about it, and partially because it tends to be a horribly depressing genre, full of cancer and dead children and cheating spouses, and I really don’t need that most of the time.

I do make an exception for family secret books, though. There’s something different about secrets that may have been passed along through a generation or three, things that could change a person’s entire world view if they knew. Maybe it’s the mystery, the wonder of what exactly is being hid.

After all, don’t we all love our own family secrets and scandals? Sure, most of the time they’re not to the level portrayed in the books, but my grandmother once told me of an uncle of hers who just…disappeared. He came home to visit and was never seen again. They thought he was perhaps killed in a train accident, but both bodies were claimed by other families, and an acquaintance mentioned he’d seen him about two years after the fact.

When I was doing genealogy for the family, I found no mention of this uncle. All his siblings, yes–but the uncle himself? Nothing. It’s almost as if he’s disappeared from history.

I wonder about that uncle a lot.

Sometimes I feel family secret books fall back on a lot of overused tropes–there’s invariably a dead child somewhere, like someone’s not sympathetic if they haven’t lost a child. But I always hold out hope that a book will try something new, give me a twist I didn’t expect, that I didn’t see coming.

My favorite example of the family secrets genre is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Do you like family secrets books too? Which ones have you enjoyed? Which have you found trite or predictable?

5 responses to this post.

  1. My great aunt ran away with Mussolini’s right-hand-man… We never heard from her again after that.. I’ve often wondered what the goings on were with that.


  2. Ooh, I loved The Thirteenth Tale. You know, Fey Touched has a family secret and a conspiracy surrounding it (but it’s science fantasy…) and my psychological horror Survivor, which I’ve been poking at this year, has a family secret/generational plot going on the antagonist’s side (I’m still up in the air about exploring that further in a sequel). So. I do enjoy family secrets. And conspiracies.


  3. Oh, and relatives who disappear? Intriguing stuff. :fends off plotbunnies:


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