Living

Domestic challenges are an extended family affair

Here’s some good news for anyone who’s ever wished the model family would drown in its own pool of cookie-cutter perfection :

Your wish is working.

Amid divorces, adoptions and in-between living arrangements, the traditional family — you know, the glossy one neighbors envy — has become a thing of the past.

Taking its place? Domestic confusion.

It’s prevalent enough to spawn an entire anthology. “One Big Happy Family ” is a collection of 18 essays devoted to “realities of truly modern love.”

The editor, Rebecca Walker, calls the collection a by-product of her fascination with other people’s families, something she’s held since childhood.

She started watching her friends’ families after her parents’ divorce, “convinced I could find the missing ingredient, the rarefied glue that coalesced seemingly random individuals into indivisible clans,” Walker writes.

“One Big Happy Family” is an extension of that goal. Its contributors’ stories underscore the qualities that often help a family succeed, even when that family on the surface seems destined for failure.

The final lesson?

“No family is a cakewalk, but if we abandon dogma and arrogance, tradition and happenstance, we are left with information and faith,” Walker writes. Among the anthology’s selections:

• In “Counting on Cousins,” one woman writes about growing up in a family of 10 children and how that impacts her parenting skills later in life.

• Then, there’s “Home Alone Together,” a male writer’s account of what happens when a husband and wife both have home offices.

• Still caught up on the traditional family? Your mind will change after reading “My First Husband,” the story of a woman’s decision to marry her gay best friend to help him stay in the country. These aren’t essays illustrating straightforward familial bliss. They’re a testament to a belief that true love requires work — and sometimes even hard work isn’t enough.

In today’s cultural landscape, the 18 stories in “One Big Happy Family” are hardly rare case studies.

The average reader is likely to be able to respond with a personal story about a partnership that has been met with quizzical glances and an underlying mantra of “It’ll never last.”

In that context, “One Big Happy Family” is more of a support manual than a lesson in voyeurism.

Its writers are often eclectic and nonconformist, daring and uncertain, yet they still somehow represent an extended family to which you’d love to belong.

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