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Families of writers

Families of writers -- From Kimberley Kafka to Christopher Rice, a look at authors with famous last names

Families of writers

Good genes don’t necessarily guarantee publishing success… but they can certainly help you nail a sweet book deal. Trouble is, literary lightning rarely strikes twice in the general population, much less the same family. For every wildly talented pair of Bronte sisters, there’s a long line of ho-hum (yet duly compensated) writers who snag a publisher at least partly on the basis of having a famous moniker. So in the grand tradition of Malachy McCourt — who gave props to his brother, best-selling Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt, for ”opening the golden door” in the acknowledgments to his own best-selling 1998 memoir, A Monk Swimming — we’ve decided to find out whether writing talent can be inherited (or at the very least, married into). And from breezy Upper East Side novels to creepy dysfunctional-family narratives to unapologetically booty-callin’ romances to pulse-racing adventures, no genre is immune to a little publishing nepotism — especially if the resulting read happens to stumble upon best-selling gold. Here’s a roundup of the latest batch of pedigreed literati.

TRUE NORTH
WRITTEN BY
Kimberly Kafka
LITERARY CONNECTION
First cousin, twice removed, of literary surrealist Franz Kafka
FAMILY TIES MENTIONED ON THE BOOK JACKET?
No.
BEST LINE
”She would regard the corded muscle in her forearms, biceps clearly defined, hands thickly veined from the work and strangely attenuated on a body that was characterized more by blunt ends than elegant tapers.”
REVIEW
An inflexible wilderness guide, an ill-prepared Massachusetts couple, and the Ingalik residents of a rural Alaskan town are all pitted against one another in Kafka’s unblinking thriller. Though the racial and political tensions are nicely wrought, it’s the authentic descriptions of the desolate Alaskan bush (where Kafka once worked as an EMT) that really elevate this first novel.
GRADE A-

WINDCHILL SUMMER
WRITTEN BY
Norris Church Mailer
LITERARY CONNECTION
Wife (No. 6) of Norman Mailer
FAMILY TIES MENTIONED ON THE BOOK JACKET?
Yes.
BEST LINE
”We threw ourselves hard at each other, scratching and clawing, buttons popping, zippers ripping… more like two hogs squealing and rutting in a wallow. We tore up half a row of potatoes, both of us covered in loamy black earth before we’d had enough and it was all over.”
REVIEW
This rambling, easily digestible country-fried summer read chronicles the misadventures of two best friends, Cherry and Baby, in SweetValley, Ark., during the summer of 1969. In gently rolling Southern cadences, Mailer captures the hormonal ups and downs of young women teetering on the verge of adulthood. So what if a major plot point involves a Ouija board?
GRADE B+

A DENSITY OF SOULS
WRITTEN BY
Christopher Rice
LITERARY CONNECTION
Son of vampire chronicler Anne Rice and poet Stan Rice
FAMILY TIES MENTIONED ON THE BOOK JACKET?
Yes.
BEST LINE
”He was surprised to see no bruises or blood on his naked body. It had begun with necessary violence, a violence that Stephen knew was not rape, but rather physical evidence that this encounter required Jordan handing over something and not Stephen.”
REVIEW
Ostensibly a morose coming-of-age novel about four New Orleans high school friends, the tale metamorphoses into an unappetizing gothic mishmash of graphic homicide, icky secrets, and characters who all realize that they prefer their sex really, really kinky. And in the case of certain studly family members… with each other. Eww!
GRADE D+

NORMAL GIRL
WRITTEN BY
Molly Jong-Fast
LITERARY CONNECTION
Daughter of Fear of Flying feminist Erica Jong and science-fiction scribe Jonathan Fast (The Beast); granddaughter of Spartacus author Howard Fast
FAMILY TIES MENTIONED ON THE BOOK JACKET?
Yes.
BEST LINE
”Children of famous people are like communism — better in concept than in practice.”
REVIEW
Though it’s scathingly funny — the druggy teenage narrator describes a moneyed world where aging Manhattan socialites die tragically from high-voltage facials and an overly decorated Western-style sitting room is ”so authentic it smells like horse—-” — Normal is so self-consciously blasé that it comes off as bland and flat. And it’s filled with shameless designer name dropping (Prada, Manolo Blahnik, Prozac, Chanel).
GRADE C+

THE FLIP SIDE OF SIN
WRITTEN BY
Rosalyn McMillan
LITERARY CONNECTION
Sister of megaselling Waiting to Exhale novelist Terry McMillan
FAMILY TIES MENTIONED ON THE BOOK JACKET?
No.
BEST LINE
”[He] placed the mouthpiece near the back of his tongue, then slowly and softly placed his lips around it… his cheeks gradually filled with air like a 44-D breast filled out a Cross Your Heart bra.”
REVIEW
McMillan definitely has her sibling’s knack for depicting steamy sex scenes (”She heard Jesse’s sexy grunts as she rode him like John Travolta rode the mechanical bull in Urban Cowboy”). In fact, this story of a middle-class African-American family struggling to reconcile their carnal desires with Christian values makes When Stella Got Her Groove Back seem like highbrow entertainment.
GRADE C-

THE OBITUARY WRITER
WRITTEN BY
Porter Shreve
LITERARY CONNECTION
Son of novelist Susan Richards Shreve (Plum & Jaggers) and stepson of literary agent Timothy Seldes
FAMILY TIES MENTIONED ON THE BOOK JACKET?
No.
BEST LINE
”She described the teenager in detail, the sounds he was making, the gurgle in his chest, the way his eyes rolled back, the sparkle of his diamond earring, his white shirt painted red…”
REVIEW
This absorbing tale of a young cub reporter in St. Louis starts out promisingly enough, with nicely shaded details of his lonely life and small-time newsroom. But when an older woman enthralls him with her sexy maturity (not to mention her predilection for going braless), and he discovers that a few of her past lovers are dead, the story veers into lukewarm thriller territory.
GRADE B-