Normal Family

Volume One Normal Family Trilogy

Fiction - General
362 Pages
Reviewed on 06/13/2019
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Don Trowden is the pen name for Caleb Mason’s fiction including the Normal Family Trilogy. His non-fiction book The Isles of Shoals Remembered was called by Allen Lacy of The New York Times “an important look at the history of American arts.”

    Book Review

Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite

Every once in a while a book comes along that is so different from what you expected your reaction shocks you. That’s what happened to me when I finished Normal Family by Don Trowden: I burst into tears! Why on earth did that happen? It happened because the description and a few reviews I read on Amazon prepared me for a good laugh. And laugh I did…often. I mean, visualizing Granddad dropping his hearing aid in the toilet or bumping his noggin every time he exits the bathroom or crashing headfirst into the beautifully decorated Christmas tree when he’s had a little too much Christmas cheer before dinner is funny…especially when I can see my own husband doing exactly the same. And it’s hard not to laugh when the grandchildren discover the contents of Granddad’s secret bomb shelter and decide to share a joint down there, only to have Granddad ask to join in their fun. What? Yes, this is definitely not a Normal Family in some respects, and yet so very normal in others e.g. everyone keeping secrets, older siblings picking on younger siblings and a father who marries a bit of a witch after a divorce and hopes the kids will like her and vice versa. Yeah right!

Young Henry Pendergast, the 10-year-old narrator of Normal Family, watches, observes, eavesdrops and becomes increasingly puzzled by the behavior, not just of his gifted older brother and sister, but by all the adults around him…except for his beloved grandfather who imparts the wisdom of years to his attentive grandson. Oddly enough, it is young Henry who opens Granddad’s eyes to his own failings. If only all families could be so honest with each other. Normal Family will have you thinking about your own family, identifying with the various characters, and questioning, as young Henry does, why we do what we do and indeed wondering just what the heck is a normal family. Will it make you cry at the end? Perhaps not if you’re made of sterner stuff than I am. But I can promise that you won’t come away untouched by Don Trowden’s beautifully delivered and brilliant story. And if you love it as I did, you might find yourself keen to read the two books that follow this one. I certainly am.

Maria Beltran

Normal Family: Volume One Normal Family Trilogy by Don Trowden is set in the late 1960s in the United States. It is the first installment of a series that tells the story of a dysfunctional family with George Pendergast as its patriarch, an explorer in the 1920s, and a foreign war correspondent during the Second World War. Told from the perspective of his ten-year-old grandson, Henry Pendergast, the story unravels in Thanksgiving in 1968 when the family gets together for the holiday in their ancestral house, a brick mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. What follows is a hilarious coming of age tale that continues through Christmas, Easter and Independence Day. By Easter, his mother, suffering from mental illness is admitted in a mental hospital and life for Henry and his siblings is never the same again. And in the midst of a family in chaos, the young boy becomes closer to his now alcoholic grandfather.

Don Trowden's novel, Normal Family, is an ironic, hilarious, sad and engaging story that should strike a sensitive nerve in all of us. Amidst the social upheaval of the late 1960s in the USA, a little boy faces the serious business of growing up in a family that is on the verge of disintegrating. An alcoholic grandfather that bullies his father and a mother that ends up in a sanitarium is certainly not normal or is it? And the situation only seems to get worse. But what makes Normal Family such an entertaining read is the book's wit and humor - so much so that the situation does not seem as grim as it really is. Author Don Trowden certainly has the unique gift of storytelling and there are a number of moral lessons that can be gathered from his novel, so we can eagerly look forward to the next installments of this trilogy!

Grant Leishman

Normal Family: Volume One Normal Family Trilogy by Don Trowden takes us back to the end of the sixties, to an America being torn apart by cultural unrest, generational change, and an extremely unpopular war halfway across the world in South East Asia. Ten-year-old Henry Prendergast is growing up in what is becoming an increasingly dysfunctional family, trying to come to terms with why he doesn’t seem to fit into his family. Through a series of four disastrous family holiday celebrations including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, Henry slowly discovers that everything and everyone he thought brought stability into his life is either leaving or changing dramatically. Looming large over Henry’s father and the entire family is his over-achieving grandfather – a well-known, wealthy and feted explorer and author. Henry’s mother is not only hiding a difficult past, but she is also trying to come to terms with her role as a wife and mother. It seems her slide into depression and mental instability is only exacerbated by the dysfunctionality of her family. Henry’s siblings provide little relief to his confusion; his elder brother being a “genius” and heading off to Yale at the mere age of fifteen and his elder sister appearing to be on the verge of anorexia. For Henry at ten, life is simply an incredibly confusing state of being.

Normal Family is an extraordinarily insightful view into the psyche of a child growing up in a dysfunctional environment at a time of great social change. Perhaps it was the fact that I was, as young Henry, just ten years old also in 1969 but whatever the reason, Don Trowden’s book absolutely resonated with me. The world, not just America, was changing dramatically in 1969 and as children, we looked at the uproar with wide open eyes, not understanding at all why the solid bases we thought our lives were grounded on were slowly being chipped away. I absolutely could identify with Henry’s bemusement at it all. I chuckled when Henry began to wonder if he was adopted as he couldn’t grasp being genetically related to these weird people that made up his family.

The characters in the story loomed large and real in the narrative. I particularly enjoyed the interaction and eye-rolling comments from both Grandfather and his long-suffering but clearly deeply loving wife. The stepmother also was pushed to the extreme of the “evil witch” and I appreciated that also although it was nice to have her children able to soften the effect on young Henry. This was a fantastic read and I absolutely loved it. As the first in a proposed trilogy, I absolutely look forward to seeing where this takes us next. I am making an assumption there is an element of an autobiographical nature in this story and I appreciate the catharsis this may have for the author if this is the case.

Louanne Piccolo

Normal Family, written by Don Trowden, is a humorous coming-of-age novel about ten-year-old Henry Pendergast and his dysfunctional family. Over the course of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Independence Day, Henry is forced to face the truth of his mother’s failing mental health. As he struggles to deal with the consequences of his mother being admitted to a mental health institution, he grows closer to his grandfather who, although alcoholic and far from perfect, helps Henry to understand and accept the changes his family is going through. Set in 1960s America, Normal Family takes a comical look at society and the decline of the nuclear family.

Fans of The Wonder Years will enjoy Don Trowden’s Normal Family in which he has taken the mundane and made it joyously wicked. I'm certain he had a whale of a time writing this novel, which is a book about a family that is anything but normal. Although many readers may not want to admit it, each and every one of us will probably find some similarities to our own flawed family units in Normal Family! Henry’s journey towards enlightenment is paved with almost every example of bad luck you can think of – from anorexia to adultery – and Henry must face it all and come out swinging. The pace is quick, like a good joke, the tone mischievous and the characters farcical with more than a touch of parody. It's guaranteed to spice up your reading list and leave you chuckling long after you've finished it.

K.C. Finn

Normal Family is a work of comedic fiction on the issues of family life, penned by author Don Trowden. Forming the first book in the Normal Family Trilogy, this initial installment introduces us to the young Henry Pendergast, who just wants his family to be normal. During the late 1960s, we follow Henry through four family holidays where he encounters other relatives beyond those who live in his immediate home, trying to navigate a social world of their dysfunctional pasts, vices, illnesses, problems, and complexities. As Henry slowly learns to cope with the idea that normal is very far from his reality, this charming coming of age tale imparts both humor and wisdom to its readers.

I really enjoyed this light but occasionally serious look at family life from author Don Trowden. His prose is set in the first person, bringing us closer to Henry’s actions and his thoughts as he surveys and questions the adults around him when things begin to go wrong in his family life. Many pertinent issues which are still relevant today are brought to light against the backdrop of 1960s America, and major holidays from the four seasons show us the typical hotbed of energy, alcohol, celebration and ultimately remorse that many families go through when they gather for the holidays. Funny without being gimmicky, this nostalgic slice of life contains realistic and humorous dialogue as well as quirky characters who are bound to remind us of our own families. Overall, Normal Family is a highly recommended read.