As Lauren Grodstein's novel opens, the narrator is lost. Pete is living in the studio above his garage while his wife contemplates divorce and his estranged son appears to be finished with him. His medical practice has disowned him as a malpractice case looms. He's being harrassed by the family of a former patient and he's avoiding phone calls from his best friend.
It takes the majority of the book to get to the root of this mystery and the quantity of back story does seem tedious at times. But on the whole, the narrative is rich and complex and I was willing to lose myself in it. None of the characters is wholly likeable, especially the narrator who is controlling of his adult son Alec and admits that he'd rather have grandchildren than a happy child. The least likeable character is Laura, the troubled daughter of Pete's friend who woos Alec, to Pete's horror. Laura is an excellent villain and as flawed as Pete is, he's the only one who recognizes the real danger she poses.
A Friend of the Family is morally complicated. The simplicity of Pete's "right is right, wrong is wrong" mentality is challenged and it challenges the reader. The conclusion is not neat and happy- and it shouldn't be.