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2 Burnside Literature- A to Z

The Family Tree


The Family Tree Cover




Part One

beginning n 1 : time at which anything begins; source; origin

1.1 fate n 1 : power predetermining events unalterably from eternity

2 : what is destined to happen

3 : doomed to destruction

The caravan entered our lives like Fate. Although from the outside, it looked like a Winnebago.

It appeared one morning in our driveway, an alien spaceship from a planet more exciting than our own. Inside, there was a miniature stove with an eye-level grill, and a fridge that was pretending to be a cupboard. Tiffany and I, experienced sniffers of nail-polish remover, stood on the threshold and inhaled the slightly toxic smell of new upholstery and expectation. I was eight years old and susceptible to the idea that technology could change your life. They said so in the TV ads.

I have a photograph from that day. W‛re standing in the driveway, smiling, certain, shoulders locked together in a single row. It reminds me of one of those Soviet posters from the thirties: the Family Monroe, brave pioneers of a new type of holiday, proudly facing the future together. The sun is making me squint, and my mother must have blinked, because her eyes are shut, but otherwise ‛d say we looked happy.

The caravan itself is blurred in the picture. A hazy beige outline that befits its semi-mystical presence in our midst. As a family, w‛d never been that keen on the outdoors, generally preferring indoor activities such as playing cards or bickering. But we stood in thrall to the brave new world it represented. W‛d all read the accompanying brochure and knew that the caravan allied the power of progress with the concept of free will: we would Travel in the Modern Way and Go As We Pleased. Although we never did. We went where our mother told us, which turned out to be Norfolk.

There she is now, breaking free from the frame of the photo and walking back inside. There is a joint of pork that requires her attention, a hall carpet that must be vacuumed, a freezer compartment that needs defrosting. She tip-taps her way back up the driveway, her hairsprayed curls bouncing up and down, a small, contented smile playing at the corners of her lips. ‛ve never been much good at divining what goes on beyond the net curtains of her eyes, but my guess is that she is thinking about the new fitted kitchen that will one day be hers. I can sense beige Formica units and a built-in oven hovering just beyond the field of my perception.

Am I exaggerating the role of the caravan in our family history? Or embellishing it? ‛m not sure. Alistai‛s the one who believes in fate, although he calls it“genetic predisposition” But then he has his reasons for this. ‛m more skeptical, ‛ll admit. But then, as yo‛ll see, I have my reasons for this too.

Alistai‛s my husband. But perhaps yo‛ve heard of him already. Alistair Betterton? The author of Destin‛s Child: Nature Versus Nurture in the Age of the Genome? If you look on page seven of the first edition, yo‛ll find me.“To my darling wife” it says. I did‛t make the second edition, but apparently this was due to lack of space.

If I was‛t married to Alistair, I suspect that ‛d tell this story differently. But I know what I know. He showed me a gene map once. It was like a temperature chart or a rainfall map, with Europe portrayed as colored contours. It showed how populations have merged and blended, how you can track the passage of people across continents by the DNA left behind in the cells of their descendants. Tha‛s you, Alistair said, and me. We are a sum of the past. Do‛t you mean we are the sum of our past? I said. No, he said, w‛re the sum of other peopl‛s pasts. W‛re made up of other peopl‛s genes. W‛re the bits they leave behind.

And i‛s true, I have my grandmothe‛s skin (sallow) and my mothe‛s hair (mouse). But I ca‛t blame them for what happened. I ca‛t blame anybody. Or at least I ca‛t blame anyone other than myself. I, Rebecca Monroe, take full responsibility for most of what happened. And the rest? I put it down to chance. Poor timing. Bad luck. I‛s not a fashionable theory, but then this was the seventies. I‛s probably best to try and leave fashion out of it. 1.2 family n 1 : a fundamental social group in society typically consisting of one or two parents and their children

“Missionary position” said Lucy.“Name given by amused Polynesians, who preferred squatting to the European matrimonial. Libel on one of the most rewarding sex positions”

We were lying on her parent‛ bed, leafing through the pages of our latest discovery.

“Wh‛s Polly Neezhuns”

Lucy looked up, her dark hair swinging around her face, and shrugged.

“Croupade. Any position in which he takes her squarely from behind; i.e., all rear-entry positions except those where she has one leg between his or is half turned on her side. See Cuissade”

There was a pause as we both tried to configure this in our minds.

“What does it say under Cuissade”

We both pronounced it Cue-is-aid. They did‛t teach French at Middleton Primary School.

“Cue-is-aid” said Lucy, enunciating the words carefully. She was using her newsreader- announcing-the-unemployment-figures voice.“The half-rear entry position, where she turns her back to him and he enters with one of her legs between his and the other more or less drawn up: in some versions she lies half turned on her side for him, still facing away”

We stared at the picture accompanying this particular passage in the book. The illustration was smudgy and drawn by hand, but there was definitely a man with no clothes on. He seemed to be holding some sort of broom pole. It was rude, that much was sure. Possibly very rude. Poor Lucy. I felt a pang of pity for my cousin, for it was in her parent‛ bedroom, specifically her fathe‛s, Uncle Kennet‛s, sock drawer, that we had found the book. She did‛t seem to mind though. She was already flicking to the next section on“Coitus

Product Details

A Novel
Cadwalladr, Carole
Cadwalldr, Carole
General Fiction
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 12
9.46x6.94x1.26 in. 1.36 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Family Tree Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 400 pages Dutton Books - English 9780525948421 Reviews:
"Review" by , "This promising debut effortlessly combines pathos and humor." Library Journal
"Review" by , "This isn't chick lit. It's women's literature ready to take on the men — and a wonderful read at that."
"Review" by , "[A]n ambitious debut by a novelist with a wicked sense of humor."
"Synopsis" by , At once nostalgic and refreshingly original, this is a sophisticated story of one woman and the generations of women who came before her whose legacies shaped her life.
"Synopsis" by ,

When Rebecca Monroe—married to Alistair, a scientist who doesn’t believe in fate, but rather genetic disposition—discovers that she is pregnant, she begins to question what makes us who we are and whether her own precarious family history will play a role in her future.

For Rebecca, the wry and observant narrator of The Family Tree, simple things said over breakfast take on greater meaning: a home-improvement project foreshadows darker things to come; the color of one’s eyes, the slope of a forehead are all missing pieces to the truth behind the family tree.

At once nostalgic and refreshingly original, The Family Tree is a sophisticated story of one woman and the generations of women who came before her and whose legacy shaped her life and its emotional landscape.

"Synopsis" by , "The very cleverness of its central motif--a dissertation on the expression of genetic traits, mostly through the evidence of prime-time soap opera--makes The Family Tree a notable debut. Carole Cadwalladr takes the reader deep under the skin of one unhappy, even cursed and yet utterly ordinary family. Through the eyes of a character so honest and doggedly hopeful, we see our own selves." --Jacquelyn Mitchard

“This is a jewel of a book. I loved it. Carol Cadwalladr is remarkably talented, and a very funny writer” --Anna Maxted

“Weeks after finishing The Family Tree, I catch myself wondering how the Monroe family is getting on. Full of interesting facts, expertly and seamlessly slipped into a compelling narrative, Carole Cadwalladr has written a wonderful novel that is hilarious and tragic at the same time” --Emily Barr

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