They say money can’t buy happiness, and All Happy Families confirms that. I think this is a book that you’ll either love or hate, depending on your penchant for messed-up rich people stories. If you like memoirs that give you a peek at the dysfunction behind the gilded doors, then it’s a pretty interesting tale, albeit a sad one. But I will warn you that if you find those stories irritating, then you’ll probably want to skip this one.
The story starts at the author’s wedding, but it’s really about the larger history of her family, and her fiance’s family. I think we’re all guilty of looking at other people’s families and assuming they must be happier due to some circumstances: money, how good a couple they make in public, etc. All Happy Families picks apart that notion and indeed, most of our notions about love, loyalty, tradition, and loss.
McCulloch grew up in a ridiculously wealthy family, but alcoholism drove a wedge into her parents’ marriage and ultimately ended her father’s life. I know some people will say “first world problems, who cares” but I found it heartbreaking to read about the relationship between her mother and father. There’s so much hope and loss involved as they’re torn apart and thrown back together.
On the flip side, you have her fiance’s parents, who look like the perfect couple from the outside. Down the road that vision starts to unravel and it makes the author realize the truth of the Tolstoy quote that each unhappy family is unhappy in their own unique way. That relationship was infuriating to me, though also shattering. I think we all have that small piece of our heart that wants to believe in happily ever after, and watching someone who also believed in that have to let go was horrible.
All Happy Families has been compared to memoirs like The Glass Castle, which is a fair enough comparison. However, like I said earlier, the “old money” angle may impact whether you enjoy the book. Personally I found the story funny, tragic, and thought-provoking at turns. However, I know some people on Goodreads have said the money angle made it harder to feel sympathy for the characters.