The Figgs by Ali Bryan

I don’t know what it is about this book that I loved so much. Maybe the fact that I am coming up to the stage of life that June and Randy are at and can imagine how it might be. Maybe because of the perfect imperfections of the characters. Maybe the bang-on dynamics between the family members, or the details of their daily lives. Or maybe just because it was a fun story that made me laugh. Whatever the case, I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone looking for a fun read.

June Figg is ready for retirement. After raising three children, she’s ready for some peace and quiet, maybe a chance to do some traveling or take up a new hobby. The only problem is, her children won’t leave.

June stood in the middle of the basement. It was a mess. Tom had been spilling orange pop on the carpet since 1995. There was a stain in the corner that still smelled faintly of rum and spaghetti, where Derek had puked after a school dance. At some point, Vanessa had drawn a lipstick happy face and covered it with the couch, and there was a trail of hardened wood glue stretching from Randy’s workshop to the bathroom. He blamed the glue on Tom. The plan had always been to replace the carpet when the kids grew up and moved out, but they were still here, all three of them, and now a third of the basement had been swallowed up by two decades worth of stuff.

Not only are they still there, but she is still cooking for a family of five every night. (Gah!) And dealing with all their stuff. And when the siblings are around each other, they’re still acting like kids. How I wanted to swat them!

On the other hand, isn’t there something special about having your kids around longer than you imagined? Hmm… June is trying to appreciate it, really she is… but when she continues to hear stories about her friends’ children off doing impressive things, she wonders what she did wrong.

There’s Tom who owns his own cleaning company and works nights. He’s sweet, but he’s 26 and she’s worried he might be addicted to porn.

Vanessa loves animals, but she’s mouthy and June is worried about the fact that she’s in a relationship with a much older woman.

And there’s Derek, the baby of the family. He works at the recycling depot and maybe isn’t as careful about birth control as he should be.

June learns things about her children that she wishes she never knew.

The reality of the past forty-eight hours sat on her chest. She thought about what would become of Derek. She imagined him going to Chuck-E-Cheese to pick up single moms with cleavage and winged eye-liner, Jaxx in an umbrella stroller drinking Coke from a sippy cup and gumming pizza crusts. And she worried about Vanessa moving too quickly and wondered if being in a relationship might change her. Would she be the quiet lesbian who managed her money wisely and listened to folk music like the nice lady who ran the floral shop, or would she cut off all her hair and dress like a boy? And though Leslie seemed genuine and kind and well-established, she was not the future June had imagined for her only daughter. She felt silly even acknowledging her grief, but it was there, and grief was what it was, relentless and nagging.

And Tom. Poor Tom. She had always hoped he’d grow into his body. But his top half was now bigger than ever, and his legs were still as thin as crutches, both parts exaggerated so that with his moustache and curly hair, he looked like a Tim Burton character. There were no girlfriends. No dates. Nothing to define him, as Randy had pointed out. All he had was an arsenal of cleaning supplies, student debt without a degree to show for it, and a collection of graphic novels where all the female characters had pierced vaginas and koi fish for nipples.

As though she doesn’t have enough to handle, her husband Randy decides it’s time to tell her about something he has been keeping to himself all these years. Which brings up feelings about her own upbringing, and what “family” really means.

If she had to be adopted, she hoped that love was at least the catalyst to conception. Slow dancing, Buddy Holly, summer fair picnic-blanket love. But what if it hadn’t been? What if she was conceived in a barn or behind an outhouse? What if her birth father drank whiskey and dined on canned meat?

This was one of those books that I did not want to end.

A couple of good lines:

.. the key to life is to lower your expectations. Better yet, get rid of your expectations completely.

I’m tired of news… I don’t want there to be any more news for a long time.

Ali Bryan lives in Calgary, but has connections to the East Coast. Her first book, Roost, was one of the past selections for One Book Nova Scotia… you can find my thoughts on it here. (Hint: I recommend this one, too!)

Thank you to Freehand Books for sending me a copy of this book! 

31 thoughts on “The Figgs by Ali Bryan

  1. TheLiterary Hoarders says:

    I liked it / not loved it – but it was very humorous in many parts – can totally identify your family in both your current family and the one you shared with your siblings and parents in the Figgs. 🙂

  2. annelogan17 says:

    I can’t wait to read this book-it’s next on my TBR so my review should come shortly, depending on when baby decides to arrive.

    I loved Roost too, i laughed out loud when I read it so I’m really hoping The Figgs has the same affect on me-which I’m sure it will 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I think I laughed even harder this time. Although, it might depend on your stage of life – little kids versus grown ones.
      I can’t wait to hear what you think!

  3. Grab the Lapels says:

    This sounds like loads of fun, and I might recommend it at book club this weekend! I’m surprised you said you relate to the characters because I thought your children were still fairly young—tweens? Maybe you’re just really, really looking forward to those grand retirement days of reading on a porch swing and doing wine tours 😀

    • Naomi says:

      My kids are 13, 15, and 17… so we’re getting there! But I think I’m also thinking of my own parents and their long journey to an empty nest. Very long! Ha! My youngest brother is living with them right now!
      I’m so glad you’re going to recommend it – I hope you can get it there!

  4. The Cue Card says:

    Wow I feel for poor June Figg! She deserves a quiet retirement. Her kids sound like they need to hit the road! Maybe this is Up-Lit though? Lots of problems but a heartfelt resolution?

  5. lauratfrey says:

    I loved her first book, and I know I’ll love this one. My brother recently moved out of my mom’s house at the ripe age of 31, so she might appreciate it too! Mother’s Day gift possibility.

    • Naomi says:

      It sounds perfect for your mother! My youngest brother has temporarily (we assume/hope) moved back in with my parents at the age of 36!

  6. buriedinprint says:

    This definitely inserted some badly needed giggles and smirks into my reading stack. I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as you did – I felt like I could, at times, see the effort of being optimistic and light-hearted…but that could have been more on my part than on the author’s now that I think about it *chuckles* – but it was a good read and it reminded me that not every book has to leave me sobbing or whimpering to be a good story. Some of the dialogue is just fantastic i thought, reminding me of Eden Robinson’s ease with banter and smart-a** commentary!

    • Naomi says:

      Yes! I thought the dialogue was great. And their conversations sounded like ones real families would have (sometimes unfortunately).
      This book, for me, also gave me another little push to get my kids to do more in the kitchen. And my son has been making some truly delicious things. I have to tell him I need a bite of each thing he makes as a tax for making it in my kitchen. 🙂

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