All Happy Families
The Glass Castle meets The Nest in this stunning debut, an intimate family memoir that gracefully brings us behind the dappled beachfront vista of privilege, to reveal the inner lives of two wonderfully colorful, unforgettable families. On a mid-August weekend, two families assemble for a wedding at a rambling family mansion on the beach in East Hampton, in the last days of the area’s quietly refined country splendor, before traffic jams and high-end boutiques morphed the peaceful enclave into the "Hamptons." The weather is perfect, the tent is in place on the lawn.
But as the festivities are readied, the father of the bride, and "pater familias" of the beachfront manse, suffers a massive stroke from alcohol withdrawal, and lies in a coma in the hospital in the next town. So begins Jeanne McCulloch’s vivid memoir of her wedding weekend in 1983 and its after effects on her family, and the family of the groom. In a society defined by appearance and protocol, the wedding goes on at the insistence of McCulloch’s theatrical mother. Instead of a planned honeymoon, wedding presents are stashed in the attic, arrangements are made for a funeral, and a team of lawyers arrive armed with papers for McCulloch and her siblings to sign.
As McCulloch reveals, the repercussions from that weekend will ripple throughout her own family, and that of her in-law’s lives as they grapple with questions of loyalty, tradition, marital honor, hope, and loss. Five years later, her own brief marriage ended, she returns to East Hampton with her mother to divide the wedding presents that were never opened.
Impressionistic and lyrical, at turns both witty and poignant, All Happy Families is McCulloch’s clear-eyed account of her struggle to hear her own voice amid the noise of social mores and family dysfunction, in a world where all that glitters on the surface is not gold, and each unhappy family is ultimately unhappy in its own unique way.
Reviews & Advanced Praise
"A perfect storm of plans gone awry, McCulloch’s beachfront scene opens the way to a deep dive into family history, marriage, generational dissonance, social status and its loss, the blame game, and the flimsy life belt of ritual. Her title alludes to Tolstoy’s famous line in Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The families McCulloch writes about—she moves from her own to a dissection of Dean’s—strive hard, mainly through the Herculean efforts of the mothers, to create cohesion, identity, all appearance of harmony. Inevitably, it seems, these efforts are, if not doomed, at least fractured." — Vogue
"McCulloch provides an honest and sensitive portrayal of family dysfunction as well as an evocation of a dying world of old-money wealth and privilege. A poignantly intimate memoir.” — Kirkus Reviews
"In this elegant, searching memoir, Jeanne McCullouch peels back the glittering layers of privilege that comprise the surface of her family, and exposes the soft, complicated, tender core beneath. This is a beautiful book about love, loss, and the ravages of time. I adored it.” — Dani Shapiro, bestselling author of Hourglass, Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion
“McCulloch is as wise as she is funny, keen both to the ridiculous excesses of the moneyed class and to the evanescence of commercial beauty, while attentive to the intricate pains of alcoholism and love’s failures that afflict her characters, amidst the splendor.” — Mona Simpson, author of Casebook and My Hollywood
“All Happy Families is a wry and poignant account of a doomed wedding, a house ‘on a perilous dune’ in the Hamptons, and a world of privilege at its vanishing point. Jeanne McCulloch’s take on the American aristocracy is informed by her sharp eye for any sign of pretentiousness and her uncanny ability to render the despair at the heart of every happy family. Think of her as an Edith Wharton for the twenty-first century: we need her wisdom now more than ever.” — Christopher Merrill, author of Self-Portrait with Dogwood
“McCulloch’s droll, deft, and tenderhearted portrait of the steely matriarchal bonds that endure alcoholism and genteel masculine decay is a delightful addition to the literature of WASP manners. I loved it.” — John Seabrook, New Yorker staff writer and the author of The Song Machine