Dublin Unitarian Book Club’s
choice for December 2021.
OUR LITTLE CRUELTIES
The Drumm family are no ordinary family, they are dysfunctional with a capital D and the cruelties they inflict upon each other are by no means little.
The story opens at a funeral, one of the three Drumm brothers is in the coffin but we don’t know which one until the reveal at the end of the book, and by then it could be any one of them.
The brothers William, Brian and Luke are brought up in the 70’s and 80’s in Dublin’s leafy Suburbia by their Dad/Martin, an insurance clerk and Mam/Melissa, a former showband singer and a wannabe celebrity. Dad “is just there”, William says and so it is Melissa’s character that has the most influence throughout their lives and it hovers like a dark shadow even when she is no longer there.
The boys compete for Melissa’s attention and she malevolently encourages this rivalry by treating them unequally, all her love is conditional. William, the eldest and favourite can do no wrong, then she belittles and undermines Brian and constantly compares him to William, and as for Luke, the youngest, she doesn’t hide the fact that she does not love him and he is the real victim of her psychological abuses.
The Dad tries to hold it all together despite being emasculated by Melissa and her infidelities, her total selfishness and forays into the world of entertainment to deal with. Parenting skills and family relationships are to the fore in this book.
The story is told in three parts, each brother having his own chapters to give their perspective on their lives from childhood to middle age. It is interesting to hear the different versions of the same events and you get to know their characters quite well. William is a successful film producer, he is arrogant, entitled, a womaniser and misogynist, Brian says “William always gets what he wants”. Brian was a teacher and is now a successful Agent in the entertainment business, he still feels second best, is manipulative, miserly and resentful and sees everything in monetary terms or how he can benefit from something. Luke is the youngest and most disturbed of all. From an early age he showed signs of serious mental health problems, he knows his mother does not love him thus his Dad overcompensates this with his attention . He surprised everyone by becoming a very successful pop star , but when that had it’s day it had long lasting damaging effects to his life, but after a turnaround or two he’s now an actor.
He still has mental health problems alongside substance abuses and addictions. He is the most lost of the three and so you do have some sympathy for him.
The other people in their lives are treated like pawns in a game of chess. Mam /Melissa, taught them that love is conditional and self serving. There’s Susan, William’s wife and daughter Daisy, all three brothers have an assortment of girlfriends, (some shared!) then there’s business partners, band members and friends who are caught in the cross fire of their rivalries and betrayals and are the collateral damage to their actions.
There is no florid or descriptive prose to soften the characterisation of the despicable Drumm Brothers but it is good writing and the story is skilfully told, otherwise you would not want to keep reading about such horrible characters or care or want to find out who is in the coffin. It reminds me of looking at an operation on the television, you don’t want to see it but you can’t look away.
Most of the book club readers did not like the book, not just because the main characters are awful but even unto the end you know the two surviving brothers will continue with their cruelties and have passed on such malevolence to the next generation, as Daisy (the daughter) says at the end of the book “You cant buy your way out of guilt gentlemen. I am determined to make you suffer”.
Personally I could skip a sequel about the Drumm family.
Dublin Unitarian Church