cover image The Family Clause

The Family Clause

Jonas Hassen Khemiri, trans. from the Swedish by Alice Menzies. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-13432-7

Khemiri (Everything I Don’t Remember) repeats phrases, assembles lists, and stacks up a family’s disappointments in this surprisingly satisfying novel set over the course of a single week. A man, referred to as “a son who is a father,” threatens to revoke the Father Clause, a family agreement allowing his “father who is a grandfather” to stay in the small family-owned apartment in Stockholm whenever he is in town. The father is too critical of his son, too stingy, and too messy, and his overburdened son doesn’t want him there—he has bigger problems. His girlfriend, the mother of their children, has gone back to work as a lawyer, leaving him to care for their two needy children as his self-esteem dips into the red. The father is less demanding of his daughter, the man’s sister, but he doesn’t know about her personal struggles, such as the fact that she’s pregnant and her boyfriend disagrees with her decision to have an abortion. The novel’s wordiness and gymnastically vague details will likely wear on readers, but Khemiri succeeds at creating an infectious sense of melancholia as the poisonous patriarch is forced to reckon with the truth. In a slow build of quotidian moments, Khemiri constructs a familiarly flawed universe that lays bare what it means to be human. (Aug.)