What first drew me to FAMILY OF ORIGIN by C.J. Hauser? When I saw it at an indie bookstore, the jacket was face-out, displaying the frilly butt of a diving duck. Score. This could be right up my science- and nature-loving alley, I thought. Then I saw the word ‘family’ was in the title. Score. This could be right up my character-driven, emotion-loving alley, I thought. And then I read the jacket copy which describes the father’s study of “the undowny bufflehead, a rare sea duck whose loss of waterproof feathers proves that evolution is running in reverse and humanity’s best days are behind us.”

Family of originThat was all it took! The father’s scientific study is a framework in the book that mirrors not only humanity’s actions and possible fate, but also the trajectory of the two main characters, Elsa and Nolan.

FAMILY OF ORIGIN is filled with whip-smart writing, deep emotion, and a sprinkling of perfectly placed humor. To those who are Millennials, or to those who give Millennials a bad rap, there is much to chuckle over in this book that tackles family dysfunction and environmental issues with a light touch.…

A conversation between Boomer-aged scientists and Millennial-aged tree-hugging geniuses takes place; the Boomers don’t want the millennials on their research island:

Most of the Reversalists’ research had started not with the ducks, but with their abiding sense that something had gone unstoppably wrong with the world, and that the generation of young people rising up were the cause of it. At best, the millennials were stupid, lazy, entitled narcissists who could not be trusted. At worst, Mick and Jim and the whole of their generation were an evolutionary step backwards for humanity… Millennials didn’t take anything seriously.

In response, Jim and Mick:

Like your old asses aren’t the ones who *ucked everything up in the first place, Jim said.

Like you all weren’t smoking cigarettes and building SUVs and making bubble after bubble and destroying the world economy, Mick said.

Like you guys aren’t the ones who clearcut forests and removed mountaintops and drilled and drilled, Jim said.

I laughed aloud at these exchanges… And on it goes. It should be noted, however, that this book isn’t a self-righteous environmental book. While it draws light to these topics with light brushstrokes (and often humor), this really is a book focused almost entirely on a brother and sister, their family, and their journeys of acceptance: of themselves and their places in the world.

FAMILY OF ORIGIN is one of those books that is so well written through action – in particular, it is the mannerisms, the familiarity between characters and their actions, and the things not said that make it so believable.

As the book jacket reads, the book “speaks to a generation’s uncertainties: Is it possible to live in our broken world with both scientific pragmatism and hope? What does one generation owe another? …Family of Origin grapples with questions of nature and nurture, evolution and mating, intimacy and betrayal, progress and forgiveness.”

What an interesting, smart literary novel with lots of symbolic layers and metaphors and an intelligent structure that often goes in reverse and then forward (in support of the theme)! So glad the book jacket grabbed me in the book store! Loved this one.

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(A version of Melissa Crytzer Fry’s review of FAMILY OF ORIGIN by C.J. Hauser was published at GoodReads on May 12, 2020. It is reposted here with permission of the reviewer.)

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