Portrait of a Nuclear Family – by J. P. Behrens – Book Review

Sales Link: Portrait of a Nuclear Family

Wanda has uncovered a dark secret that could shatter the image of her perfect family. Attempting to force the situation back into the societal framework she’d strived for years to present, events spiral out of control. Secrets threaten to emerge from a carefully suppressed past and become public. To save her family’s reputation, Wanda succumbs to a madness no one could have expected.

What’s up, fellow book devourers? I’m here today to talk about a book that contains two adults that I wholeheartedly believe should be the recipients of the ‘World’s Most Ridiculous Parents’ Award. But let me paint you a little picture of the story before I elaborate on that. Fair warning: there are some spoilers ahead but I will not ruin the main plot or the ending.

Simon is an adorable kid. Nathan, his older brother, is clearly disturbed and he’s also a manipulative asshole. Mum is rightfully concerned but Dad is wilfully ignorant and lazy, and unconcerned to the point of accusing Mum of being nuts (to be fair, there might be good reason for his bias, we find out later). Also, there’s an overstepping grandmother.

The first third of this book gave me the strongest We Need to Talk About Kevin vibes in the world – which is a major compliment because that is possibly the best story of its ilk, in my opinion, and one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. The author did a really good job of painting the family dynamic and the relationships, which were frustrating at times but only because they were depicted quite realistically. The growing feeling of dread and concern for one particular character made me very uncomfortable and tense, which is exactly what one should expect with this kind of story.

I have to say though, there are some parenting decisions that make zero sense to me. Nathan has been killing animals, and both Mum and Dad not only know this, but actually saw one of Nathan’s unfortunate victims with their own eyes. Despite this, Dad is still absolutely hell bent on fulfilling Nathan’s Christmas wish of owning an air rifle. Mum rightfully says absolutely not – Nathan already has violent tendencies. The compromise they reach is that they’ll buy the younger brother, Simon, the air rifle, and allow Nathan to use it with parental supervision. So not only will there still be a gun in the house where a disturbed teenager lives, but said disturbed teenager has to deal with his little brother, who didn’t even want the gun, getting it instead of him. This will undoubtedly cause jealousy and animosity between them. Furthermore, they decide to buy Nathan a tool kit instead…. after discovering an animal torture area he built in the woods. Why? In We Need to Talk About Kevin (I can’t help but compare), Dad buys Kevin a bow and teaches him archery, which in hindsight, wasn’t a great idea. However, in that book, Dad sincerely believes his son to be normal and harmless, because Kevin is clever and only ever shows his true colours infront of Mum. Dad doesn’t believe Mum in that story because all he ever sees of Kevin is a sweet boy whose Mum has some sort of paranoia and unjustified disliking of him. This isn’t the case here.

Things get switched up as we head into the middle of the story and in a very surprising way. The event that serves as the catalyst is set up as an inevitability, but what follows afterwards takes quite the unexpected turn, which I appreciated. Again, there are some decisions that just didn’t track well with me, mostly on Dad’s part. However, I very much enjoyed another character’s arc here, especially the continuous hints that they did something bad in the past. The way this past event was slowly revealed was really intriguing and pretty satisfying, and created a layer of complexity that explained a weird family dynamic.

The plot escalates explosively, which is great, though I do think that it takes a bit too long to reach the conclusion. Once you know what’s happening, it’s very obvious where things are going to end up, and because the character we’re now following is both unlikeable and unrelatable, I started to switch off because I didn’t care that much about their journey. That’s not to say that where things end up isn’t the stuff of nightmares, mind you. It’s really chilling but also highly entertaining, in a sicko horror fanatic sort of way. The imagery is outstanding. I just found that the back half of the book got a little samey and wish it had been a bit shorter for extra punch later on. However, I am an extreme nitpicker. A dickhead, some might say. Other reviewers have not been nearly this picky so just bear in mind that I’m so critical because it’s in my nature as a grumpy, I-hate-almost-everything asshole to be like this.

Overall, I’d say this is a pretty brutal read with some sinister grin-inducing violence and gore, and would be right at home on the shelves of extreme horror and splatterpunk fans in particular. I’d definitely read more from this author.

If you’d like to buy your own copy, or check out the author, the links you need are below:



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