Granta 158: In The Family is a mixed bag, rarely peeking above the average.
The issue opens with Fatima Bhutto’s reflections on her dog’s pregnancy. A tragic story of a bond between a human and a dog, like a member of the family.
The curious memoir from Will Rees about his illness touched a personal nerve with me. He is instructed by his doctor to go to A&E. After explaining everything to the triage nurse, the latter write down on a piece of paper “Feels unwell.” After a fashion, he is diagnosed with glandular fever. He is in and out of hospital being diagnosed – something sadly a familiar tale.
Chris Dennis shares a memoir of his parents. “If the heart has a great hall then it must also have a dungeon.” A dark phrase referencing torture we feel in our life is hidden away.
Sheila Heti talks about her father’s death. Tonally mistimed and with the odd phrase like “She knew the universe had ejaculated his spirit into her.”
Nathan Harris’ The Physician, is a story during the time of the plague, albeit we are left wondering where the story goes.
Moses Mackenzie’s An Olive Grove in Ends, whose dialogue is in the local vernacular, gradually melds into a teenage story.
Debbie Urbanski’s The Picnic Pavilion, in which three generations spend time together to discuss the family’s hereditary cancer, of which two are already dead. This fantasy tale manages to be an entertaining read about their conversations whilst still being respectful of the subject.
The issue end s strongly with Sharif Madalani’s Beirut Fragments 2021. It is a diary that describes life in a decaying county, and a long way from returning to a functioning city state. As we live through the Ukraine invasion it is a timely reminder of what can occur on a more general level when economies collapse, corruption takes hold, and people adopt creative ways to acquire dwindling resources. The political and administrative regime fails to cope both within itself and the state around it.
Sharif Madalani writes, the poet Paul Valery, says “we must try to live”, and describes how people who brought their industriousness with them, decide to leave. Those that continue to live there, find ways to survive – their principal occupation.