Learn more about CCRLS
Reading recommendations from Novelist
Online learning resources
Cover image for A field guide to the North American family : concerning chiefly the Hungates and Harrisons, with accounts of their habits, nesting, dispersion, etc., and full description of the plumage of both adult and young, within a taxonomic survey of several aspects of domestic life
Format:
Title:
A field guide to the North American family : concerning chiefly the Hungates and Harrisons, with accounts of their habits, nesting, dispersion, etc., and full description of the plumage of both adult and young, within a taxonomic survey of several aspects of domestic life
ISBN:
9781101874950
Publication:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, [2017]
Physical Description:
133 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Summary:
The very first work of fiction by the best-selling, acclaimed author of City on Fire --his piercingly beautiful treasure box of a novella about two families in the suburbs, now in a newly designed edition For years, the Hungates and the Harrisons have coexisted peacefully in the same Long Island neighborhood, enjoying the pleasures and weathering the pitfalls of their suburban habitat. But when the patriarch of one family dies unexpectedly, the survivors face a stark imperative: adapt or face extinction. In sixty-three interlinked vignettes and striking accompanying photographs, the novella cuts multiple paths--which can be reconstructed in any order--through the lives of its richly imagined characters. Part art object, part Choose Your Own Adventure, A Field Guide to the North American Family is an innovative and deeply personal look at the ties that bind, as well as a poignant meditation on connection in a fragmented world.
Holds:

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Status
Searching...
Hallberg
Searching...
Searching...
Hallberg, G.
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

The very first work of fiction by the best-selling, acclaimed author of City on Fire --his piercingly beautiful treasure box of a novella about two families in the suburbs, now in a newly designed full-color edition

For years, the Hungates and the Harrisons have coexisted peacefully in the same Long Island neighborhood, enjoying the pleasures and weathering the pitfalls of their suburban habitat. But when the patriarch of one family dies unexpectedly, the survivors face a stark imperative: adapt or face extinction. In sixty-three interlinked vignettes and striking accompanying photographs, the novella cuts multiple paths--which can be reconstructed in any order--through the lives of its richly imagined characters. Part art object, part Choose Your Own Adventure, A Field Guide to the North American Family is an innovative and deeply personal look at the ties that bind, as well as a poignant meditation on connection in a fragmented world.


Author Notes

Garth Risk Hallberg was born in Louisiana and grew up in North Carolina. His writing has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The New York Times, Best New American Voices, and, most frequently, The Millions. His novella, A Field Guide to the North American Family, was published in 2007.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Kirkus Review

What kind of relationships are best described in a guidebook supported by art photos? It's complicated.The success of Hallberg's 2015 epic, City on Fire, prompted the reissue of this short but structurally ambitious novella, first published by a small press in 2007. As the title suggests, the story takes the form of a guidebook. Verso pages provide brief narrative sketches under thematic headings such as "Angst," "Freedom," and "Midlife Crisis"; recto pages feature documentary photos in a Mary Ellen Mark/Robert Frank vein, with cross-references and faux scientific captions. ("Fidelity is a lesser-known relative of the more common Infidelity.") Despite all that apparatus (readers are also encouraged to bounce around chapters, la Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch), the plot is straightforward, capturing the anxieties and tragedies of two neighboring middle-class Long Island families. The Harrisons are broken after the death of their patriarch while the Hungate parents have split up, forcing the teenage children in both houses to try various coping strategies: Tommy Harrison tells outsized lies about his accomplishments, Gabriel Hungate gets overly into graffiti and drugs, and cheerleader Lacey Harrison gets overly into Gabriel. Gabriel, we learn early on, has suffered an accident that sent him to a burn unit, and the various perspectives are unified by a mood of somberness and regret. ("Optimism is enormous at birth, and gradually shrinks to its adult size," goes one typical intonation.) But there's a disconnect between the pathos of the story and the medium through which Hallberg delivers it, a sense that for all the seriousness of the plight of the Harrisons and Hungates, they're essentially satirical targets, half-awake booshwa suburbanites too concerned with "Entertainment" and "Fiscal Responsibility" when they should focus on "Meaning, Search For." Hallberg has a fine novelist's grace and sensitivity but delivers this story with a taxonomist's heart. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

An earlier, small-press version of this illustrated novella preceded Hallberg's sprawling and internationally best-selling debut novel, City on Fire (2015). Hallberg's audience now secured, he offers this redesigned, full-color edition of an unconventionally unwinding encyclopedia of two neighboring Long Island families. The Harrisons and the Hungates, a son and daughter in each family, are virtually mirror images until one patriarch dies and the other's family ties are loosened by divorce. Invariably, each Hungate and Harrison is muddling through some form of love, grief, or suburban angst. Arranged alphabetically and voiced by various known and unknown narrators, entries like Habits, Bad, Sibling Rivalry, and Tenderness each contain a page of text, a photo (from various contributors), and references that link them to one another. Illustration captions further elucidate and cross-reference, as in Fidelity is a lesser known relative of the more common Infidelity. By definition nonlinear and inconclusive, this will be a welcome departure for literary-fiction readers who embrace Hallberg's free-reading, creative approach.--Bostrom, Annie Copyright 2017 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

IS THERE ANY new way to tell a story about suburbia - its cheerleading practices, its sneaked cigarettes and kidney-shaped swimming pools? In "A Field Guide to the North American Family," Garth Risk Hallberg pulls out every trick he can think of. Originally published by a small press a decade ago, the novella has now been reissued by Knopf, which also published Hallberg's ambitious, much-discussed 2015 novel, "City on Fire." Unlike that generally traditional if sprawling book, the novella is self-consciously experimental. It's arranged in a series of 63 vignettes, each headed by a capitalized guideword (usually an abstract noun like "Grief," "Privacy" or "Tenderness," though occasionally more workaday options like "Mortgage" sneak in), which relates to the paragraph below it in ways that may or may not be obvious. On the right-facing page, accompanying each nugget of story, is an art photo, plus several cross-references to related pages and a caption that might also suggest directives to other entries. ("Due to a growth curve similar to that of Depression, a robust Divorce population has become common wherever Love dwells in large numbers.") If all that sounds like rather a lot of work for a novella, well, it is - particularly since the story Hallberg is telling is, in the end, a pretty simple one. We follow the Harrisons and the Hungates, two families on the North Fork of Long Island, each with a son and a daughter. Through sketches written from more than a dozen perspectives, from an omniscient third person to the family members themselves to tangential figures - an antagonistic neighbor, a chatty doctor - we piece together a kind of narrative. There's a death; there are a couple of infidelities (maybe three, if you believe one narrator, though he lies about plenty else); there is a divorce and a serious accident. There are middle-aged dissatisfactions and listless teenage drug use and, happily, young love, which is a pleasure to read in Hallberg's rich, empathic prose. Experimental fiction demands that the experiments justify their existence, and this novella only half does. Hallberg takes the "Field Guide" setup too seriously, and the occasional chapter, like "Entertainment" ("In the beginning was the Television"), is a touch too cute. Though the cross-references serve as a useful guide to experiencing the story nonlinearly, it is often difficult to parse the motivation behind which story redirects where. I wish Hallberg had written these sketches equipped with slightly more faith in his readers' willingness to concentrate without needing their attention distracted by editorial baubles. (Cross-references, O.K.; but secondary cross-references?) The photos, especially, don't add much. But the Rashomon effect of the multiple perspectives and jumbled timelines is powerful. The book echoes the way gossip, the lingua franca of neighborhoods like these, functions: The reader gets an inkling of some event in one story, then sees it confirmed a dozen pages later. If the novella's bells and whistles arose from a concern on Hallberg's part that without them his subject would seem too familiar - another white M.F.A. grad takes on the banal betrayals of middle-class suburban families - he needn't have worried. When the novelty of the Choose Your Own Adventure aspect of Hallberg's narrative wears off, the reader is left with the book's true pleasure: Hallberg's delicate excavation of those moments, relationship dynamics and angsts that haven't become the clichés of the genre. Hallberg inhabits each of his characters completely, and there is some gorgeous image or turn of phrase on almost every page. Especially impressive are the voices of the kids in the story, which feel natural and true. The younger ones are dreamy and defiant, not precious, and the older teenagers are given the space to feel and express subtle, complex emotions. To set out to tell a story about two families, their kids, their midlife crises and backyard cookouts is indeed unremarkable. But there are things about the Harrisons and Hungates - Tommy's little lies; the way Jackie talks to Alphonse, her stuffed lion - that will stay with me for a long time. ? The book echoes the way gossip functions, with events hinted at but only confirmed far later. ALEXANDRIA symonds is a senior staff editor at The Times.