Family Loyalty and Family Secrets in "We Are The Brennans"

The Fiction Addiction

Here’s the description for We Are The Brennans by Tracey Lange:

“In the vein of Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes and Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest, Tracey Lange’s We Are the Brennans explores the staying power of shame―and the redemptive power of love―in an Irish Catholic family torn apart by secrets.”

Such a conflicting intro. Ask Again, Yes was an absolute slog to get through, but I loved The Nest, so I was a bit guarded going in to this one.

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We Are The Brennans(my photo)

After a drunk-driving accident in LA, sister Sunday is talked into moving back home to upstate New York to recover physically and emotionally. Her dad and three brothers, as well as their extended family, are delighted to have her back, and she’s immediately pulled into a struggling bar with shady financial troubles, a struggling marriage, her father’s failing health, and more. And her ex-fiance, Kale, is right in the middle of all this.

The chapters alternate between focused, third-person points of view, often changing on one line of dialogue. I listened to part of this book, and this style was just great for an audiobook. Each section lets readers see a different perspective, and by putting together what each Brennan knows, readers can put together the history of the Brennan family, with all their secrets. Some of the family secrets began in Brennan kids’ high school days, some in the Brennan parents’ marriage, and others started back in the Irish Troubles. The family is fiercely loyal — when Sunday shouts that messing with one Brennan is messing with them all, it’s completely true. But at some points of the story, it seems like they don’t know each other at all, since everyone (except maybe Shaun) is keeping something hidden.

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We Are The Brennans(cover art from the publisher)

I really enjoyed seeing how each individual storyline connected and made up the life of the Brennan family. I could see how each person justified their choices, too. This shady loan is only for a little while, just to tide us over until the business gets going. Or, a man who provides well for his wife and children is still a good father, even with an affair on the side. We need to keep a gun in the bar for protection. So every family secret in We Are The Brennans felt like a believable mistake. (I think this is what suggested the comparison to The Nest, where every character was flawed, but in ways that felt like read humans screwing up, and not high drama.)

The novel blended moments of every day life in the family, with life-changing arrests, accidents, and affairs.

OK, spoilers about the ending now. Stop reading until you’ve finished the book!

I was mostly happy with the ending of the book, and how all the stories connected and the main story of the Brennans came through. I could see how the intense loyalty would get them through whatever came next. Still, I really just wanted Sunday and Kale to move on. There were promising moments when I thought they were going to outgrow their obsessive teenage love. Kale has a wife and son, and Sunday has the attentions of good-guy Michael. It seemed like they were both going to mature and move on, but instead, he just ditches his wife and the book ends before we see the fallout.

I really hate the Fated To Be Together trope, because in real life, the idea that two people are just meant to be together usually means ignoring every red flag ever. (See also: The Paper Palace and Ask Again, Yes) Plus, I think I was meant to dislike Vivian when it’s revealed that she “forgot” to take her pill when she and Kale were dating, but instead, I was just annoyed that Kale caused two accidental pregnancies. Wrap it up, Kale! Geez!

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