M. T. Edvardsson crafts an enjoyable psychological thriller in A Nearly Normal Family. It’s told from three viewpoints. First, the father’s voice lays out both current and past events. Then, the daughter fills in some gaps, but makes it clear that she’s an unreliable narrator. Lastly, the mother gives us the answers we crave. But in all three cases, the narrator only has one limited viewpoint. So nothing is certain.
What’s certain is that the daughter, who’s just turned 18, is accused of killing a man more than a decade older than her. She has a history of reckless behavior, and lacks the typical impulse control. So, in her father’s telling it seems quite possible she’s actually committed the crime. As she takes over the narrative, the situation gets muddier rather than clearer. Even when you think you’ve guessed the solution to the crime, everything you know depends on three narrators with their own agendas.
Set in Lund, Sweden, the book will make you want to travel there and ride bicycles through the streets like its characters.
I’ll add a trigger warning here for rape. There are some detailed descriptions and discussions of rape. They may be difficult for some people to read.
Stella, the daughter, isn’t an easy kid or teenager. All three narrators make that clear. And this made me glad that our kids were teenagers in a generally easier time. But Stella is a product of the people who raised her. Adam, her father, was a doting dad but also very involved in his career as a pastor. Being a pastor’s kid is never easy. Ulrika, the mother, never intended to have kids so young. Instead, she focused on her law career and let Adam manage quite a lot of the parenting tasks.
Edvardsson shines a bright light on all of their various relationships. Each parent has a different parenting style. And as Stella becomes a teenager, they have trouble shifting gears to her new needs and demands.
But still, each characterization leaves some dark shadowy spots in the narrative. They all have secrets from each other. And the shifting time frames during each narrator’s part only serve to make things less straightforward.
As an only child, I’m sensitive to the portrayal of only children in books and movies. Stella is an only child for the new generation. Her story is a huge contrast to recent books like Where the Crawdads Sing. She’s rebellious and manipulative from an early age, but Edvardsson also shows the difficulties she has fitting in at school. Adam and Ulrika struggle to understand her behavior, yet they’d do anything to protect her and offer her advantages.
I liked the characters outside the main trio as well. Edvardsson develops the victim, Stella’s lawyer, and her lifelong best friend through the lens of the main characters’ eyes. They add substantial energy and complexity to the narrative.
I recommend this for readers who enjoy psychological thrillers with a European setting. I’d read more from this author.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Celadon Books, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.