Sara Mesa is one of the best Spanish writers of the moment but her books are hit-and-miss. Some are brilliant, and some are disappointing. The Family is beautifully written and has a great premise but it ultimately fails because the author can’t stay faithful to the idea she’s trying to develop, and the novel ends up disintegrating into unfinished sketches that never come together.
Here’s what makes The Family interesting. It’s a novel about a bad, oppressive father. Usually, bad fathers in literature differ according to their political leanings. Bad right-wing fathers are tyrannical, controlling, religious, and omnipresent. Bad left-wing fathers are absent, distant, atheist, promiscuous and sexually inappropriate. In The Family, Sara Mesa tries to create a bad left-wing father who isn’t absent or promiscuous. He’s controlling, omnipresent, and sexually austere at the same time as he is woke.
Unfortunately, Mesa doesn’t go all in on the father’s wokeness. He’s the leftist of the 1980s and 1990s, which means that much of today’s woke insanity didn’t yet exist. If she’d set the novel today and really went for it, that would have been one great book. Instead, she runs out of steam, gets confused, and ends up with a set of vignettes that never really lead anywhere.