EFFED UP! Story of a Family
by Russ Woody
NY Creative Publishing

"After all, their problem solving skills aren't that great. And there is always a problem. And, if there isn't, they create one. 'But I guess that's family.'"

Robert Nirth, an actuarial analyst and underwriter, is a hardworking individual who has a penchant for sarcasm. There's not a dysfunctional bone in his body. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the family he has tried to distance himself from. One phone call changes the direction of Robert's life and impels him to address his familial issues head-on.

Effed Up! is downright hilarious: Woody does an incredible job of building characters and putting them in situations where they must make decisions—and it's usually the wrong one. For instance, in the opening scene, Robert is engrossed in sexual behaviors with a witless woman named Becky, when his father calls to inform him his mother's in the hospital and dying. Robert's multitasking prowess not only turns Becky away in disgust, but also gives readers an idea of where Helen Nirth, Robert's mom, stands on his list of favorite people. While Robert is kind enough to visit his mother in the hospital, his sister Darlene's response to her mother's sickness is to inform her when she's dead. Lenny, Robert's 46-year-old aspiring, flamed-out musician of Pink Lloyd—a tribute band to Pink Floyd—is asleep when Robert awakens him to give him the news. His response is more mindboggling than Darlene's response: "No shit, I'm upset, douchbag," he says. "You fucking woke me up for that?"

Woody's narrative, though only for an adult audience, explores the idea of what a family should and should not be. Though blood related, Robert, Darlene, and Lenny are seemingly intent on avoiding their self-centric and allegedly psychopathic mother. Meanwhile, their own lives aren't going as smoothly either. Robert is recently removed from a tumultuous marriage in which he proclaims the best part was receiving the divorce papers. Darlene, a devout Christian, morphs into an alcohol-abusing woman who has affairs with the pool boy. Lenny takes crazy to another level: his master plan is to take over his mother's home by proving she is crazy—which she very well may be—and send her to a psychiatric facility. Throughout, the only normal individual appears to be the father, Paul Nirth. Nevertheless, how can one be normal when he has spent decades living in what amounts to a circus, with Helen Nirth as the ringleader? Paul Nirth's death is the catalyst that brings this dysfunctional family together again and perhaps gives Robert the opportunity to understand what he really desires in a family.

Woody dedicates an entire chapter to the secret life of Paul Nirth. In many ways, this chapter symbolizes the American Dream. Paul Nirth installed a safe in his garage so he could hide his personal secrets; however, his secret life was so profound and memorable that he could not possibly fit it in a safe. Although all individuals have the mindset of living the American Dream, they find themselves shackled by the norms of society, and often times, by their own family. Paul Nirth lived his life on his terms, while handling the less endearing aspects of his life—more or less, Helen Nirth—without malice.

From the novel, it becomes apparent that a family should not be a give and take relationship, but rather one based on love. Robert is happy when he is in the company of his neighbor, Carmine, a gay paraplegic who tortures Robert with self-made and poorly-fitting shirts, and Carmine's sister Amy, his girlfriend.

The Original Dysfunctional Family, a text focusing on classical mythology, shows that such dysfunction has and will always be prevalent in humanity, and so, on an analytical level, Effed Up! may not be as farfetched as it seems; there really are families out there who cannot tolerate one another and are in complete disarray. The Helen Nirth's of the world should read Take Back Your Family and the children's book My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life for tips. Needless to say, the audience will have their "I know a Helen Nirth" moment, as they wade their way through this book. Her character and the myriad scenarios that play out as a result of one domineering and manipulative woman will ultimately mesmerize the audience. Meanwhile, the Robert Nirth's of the world have a choice to be a part of that dysfunction or become a part of a family that is filled with hope and love rather than despair.

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