“Little Cruelties” by Liz Nugent

When a book promises a little dark, family dysfunction, I am IN (not sure why since my own family has a very normal amount of dysfunction). And Little Cruelties did not disappoint, though, “little” isn’t a word I’d use to describe the level of dysfunction in this family.

Focusing on the Drumm brothers, Nugent brings the toxicity and damage caused by their deeply flawed relationships to the forefront. At the root is their mother, a washed-up singer who still expects her family to treat her like a star. No surprise, the boys, born a year apart, spend their childhood competing for her attention and eventually, grow to resent her, each other and their father for catering to his wife’s whims, as well.

The brothers’ upbringing and the resulting damage color virtually every aspect of their lives. To them, competition isn’t harmless sibling rivalry but, rather, a means of survival. As a result of their individual experiences, each takes a very different path in life, yet, their “mind games” still manage to take a significant toll on the others—until, in the story’s climax, one of the brothers dies.

It doesn’t get much more dysfunctional than that.

THE FINAL WORD: It’s not exactly an uplifting read, but Little Cruelties is so well written and engaging, it definitely kept me turning the pages.