Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday, March 13, 2019: Maximum Shelf: A Nearly Normal Family

Celadon Books: A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Celadon Books: A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Celadon Books: A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, tranlslated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Celadon Books: A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

A Nearly Normal Family

by M.T. Edvardsson, trans. by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Swedish author M.T. Edvardsson's outstanding U.S. debut, A Nearly Normal Family, opens with a man sitting outside a courtroom. His name is called over the speaker. It's his turn to testify. He enters the courtroom and stares at the defendant. She looks back with dull eyes. And yet: "It takes all my strength not to run over and throw my arms around her and whisper that... I'm not going to let go of her until this is all over."

Because the defendant is the man's teenage daughter. And she's on trial for murder.

Cut to part one, told from the father's POV:

Adam, a pastor, claims his family was a perfectly ordinary one. "We had interesting, well-paid jobs and an extensive circle of friends.... [W]e sorted our trash and used our blinkers and kept to the speed limit and always returned library books on time." Adam and his attorney wife, Ulrika, are preparing to celebrate their daughter Stella's 18th birthday.

When Stella is arrested on suspicion of murdering a much older man Adam didn't even realize she knew, Adam decides he will protect his daughter, no matter what. But would his faith allow him to destroy evidence and give false testimony?

As Adam arrives at his moral crossroads, Stella takes over part two of Family to tell her version of the story. In jail awaiting trial, Stella must see an appointed therapist. She doesn't trust the woman--for her whole life Stella has been diagnosed with one disorder or another, prescribed this drug and that, until "I came to the conclusion that it was all bullsh*t. I am who I am. Diagnosis: Stella."

At this point, the narrative baton is handed over to Ulrika, who takes the story home and reveals all the secrets--and there are many. Throughout the book, Adam is portrayed as the hands-on parent while Ulrika is the workaholic one, but it turns out Ulrika's maternal instincts are quite fierce, and she has a few surprises up her sleeve.

The ordinariness of this family is one of the reasons the story is so gripping. Adam, Ulrika and Stella could be anyone, anywhere, just living their lives until one day tragedy strikes. As they grapple with the new normal, they commit actions they couldn't imagine doing previously, crossing lines they wouldn't have crossed before, going down paths that take them deeper and deeper into dangerous territory. But when the stakes involve the survival of the family, readers might wonder if they would behave differently.

Tackling moral dilemmas through different narrators, Edvardsson is able to provide three sides to the story, each from a convincing voice. With multiple narrators, sometimes one is more enthralling than another, but all three here are equally arresting. After writing as a straight-and-narrow pastor, Edvardsson transitions seamlessly to the voice of a rebellious teenage girl--in jail, no less--and then to that of a cunning lawyer. Amazingly, in one narrator's version of the story, the other characters might seem insensitive, unreasonable or even straight-up wrong, but then the viewpoint shifts and the narrator who takes over sounds completely rational, with valid justification for his or her behavior. No one is 100% wrong or right, and the exploration of the gray area between righteousness and immorality makes Family realistic, even when the action becomes incredibly dramatic.

At its core, A Nearly Normal Family asks: How well do you know your loved ones? Or your best friend? Or anyone? Whom can you trust? Edvardsson doesn't give easy answers, and even throws in commentary about the Swedish legal system when it comes to determining guilt or innocence. But the author raises provocative questions, wraps them up in a propulsive thriller and delivers an ultra-satisfying read that's far from ordinary. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

Celadon Books, $26.99, hardcover, 400p., 9781250204431, June 25, 2019

Celadon Books: A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

M.T. Edvardsson: Parents' Worst Nightmares

(photo: Caroline Andersson)

After publishing several novels and books for young readers in his native Sweden, M.T. Edvardsson is making his U.S. debut with the domestic thriller A Nearly Normal Family, to be published by Celadon Books on June 25, 2019. The story is told from the points of view of a pastor father, a criminal-attorney mother and their teenage daughter, Stella, who's on trial for murder. The father is called to testify on his daughter's behalf, and is torn between love for her and wanting to tell the truth. A Nearly Normal Family is already a bestseller in Sweden and will be published in more than 30 territories. Edvardsson is also a teacher and father of young daughters, experiences he drew on to write Family. He lives with his family in Löddeköpinge, Sweden.

Whose POV did you enjoy writing most, and why? How did you get into the mindset of the narrators and make sure each has a unique voice?

That was one of the most challenging things about writing this story, but also a very interesting and enjoyable task. I think of myself as an actor when I'm writing. I have to try to become the character that is telling the story at the moment and use his or her language. I really liked writing Stella's part of the story, since she's such a cool, smart and funny person. She's also the one who's most far away from myself when it comes to age, as well as other things. 

Why did you make the father a pastor?

I wanted the character to have a real struggle with the moral dilemmas he's about to face. As a pastor, he has to deal with all of his ideals and beliefs when his daughter is being accused by the police.

Some people think Stella has some kind of psychological problem, and being properly diagnosed and treated is the answer. But she feels psychiatrists are too quick to issue diagnoses and drugs, and that therapy is useless.

I think that therapists and psychiatrists fill a very important function. Some people are definitely helped by being diagnosed, and it can, of course, be crucial for receiving the correct treatment. At the same time, Stella has got a point when she claims that every person is an individual and that diagnoses are kind of sweeping and generalizing.

The book asks how well parents know their kids. How does a parent find the balance between being aware of what their kids are doing and being overprotective?

I wish I knew the answer. Today, parents are facing a new arena of problems where children can have access to the whole world sitting in their rooms. At the same time, parents have possibilities we didn't have before when it comes to digital surveillance. I think it's a delicate act of balance.

The parents in the book do things they believe are in Stella's best interests, but sometimes their actions have painful consequences. How much say do you think a teen should have in actions taken on her behalf?

You have to remember that a teen's cognitive skills and understanding of the world aren't fully developed. But then again, parents obviously have to consider and respect the youngster's feelings and opinions. These are all really difficult decisions and that's probably why many people find it interesting to read about.

How old will your daughters have to be before they're allowed to read this book?

It would make me really happy if my daughters want to read books when they're teenagers. Unfortunately, there are so many other things that appeal to young people's attention today. There is almost no blood at all in my book, and although the story revolves around a murder, the reader never has to witness the actual homicide. And then again, will I really be able to control what my daughters read and when? I'm not sure.  

Have you always been a fan of crime fiction? Who are your favorite crime authors? 

I started reading crime fiction when I was about 12. Then I read every book by Agatha Christie, but today I read a lot of other novels as well. Among my favorite writers are Dennis Lehane and Peter Robinson.

What themes will you be exploring in your next book?

I want to examine life in a small community where everybody knows each other, or at least they think that they know each other. The next novel will also be looking into the question of how well we really know our partners when life just seems to pass by in really high speed. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

Powered by: Xtenit