The Big Idea: Elle Marr
You think you know family, but maybe your family isn’t quite like the family in Elle Marr’s novel The Family Bones. And maybe that’s a good thing, but as Marr explains, this family here makes for interesting reading.
Who among us has never returned from a family event, and wondered at their good fortune—or bad? We all have our “chosen families”—the amalgam of friends, coworkers, and followers with whom we share our deepest thoughts—but none of us has the luxury of choosing our actual relatives or the common traits that we share. We don’t know what dominant or recessive alleles in our genes will determine whether we can make that half-court jump shot or enable us to become the world’s foremost authority in basket weaving.
Perhaps more concerningly, if someone belongs to a family like the Eriksens, no one can predict if they’ll be born with a predisposition toward Anti-Social Personality Disorder—which includes sociopathy and psychopathy—or otherwise gifted with benign normalcy. How much does nature in the “nature versus nurture” debate determine our trajectory?
The Family Bones begins with this big idea, as readers are introduced to a notorious clan in true crime circles: the Eriksens. Given a legacy that includes hidden basement chambers dating back to the Great Depression, Olivia Eriksen confronts her heritage by studying psychology in graduate school. When Olivia receives an invitation to an upcoming family reunion and learns the entire—non-incarcerated—Eriksen family will be there, she must choose whether to attend with her fiancé, or take the proverbial blue pill and continue on in the safety of academia. I know I would down the blue option faster than you can say “neurodivergent,” but for Olivia—and the reader—that wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
Another big idea behind The Family Bones is rooted in our latest shared obsession: true crime. I grew up leafing through magazines in the checkout aisle, captivated by the stark headline du jour, and that piqued interest transferred to the small and big screens when fictionalized non-fiction became common to marquees. True crime is a newer genre of fiction, relatively speaking, that has exploded over the last decade. And while books that could be shelved under that category have existed far longer, true crime podcasts have seen their birth and proliferation within the last ten years, starting with the now famed “Serial.”
This phenomenon drives a different storyline in The Family Bones. From the perspective of a stay-at-home-mom—much like the author of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara—my podcaster, Birdie Tan conducts her own investigations after her family goes to sleep. Birdie zooms in on Google Earth images and partially photocopied police reports to form new conclusions on cases of minority victims whose murders were never solved. Her passion draws inspiration from real-life examples of armchair detectives, such Michelle McNamara, and podcasters Sarah Koenig and Kate Winkler. These innovators are all examples of the latest big idea to capture our cultural consciousness: we are capable of more than consuming the checkout stand headlines. We can affect them for ourselves.
As a consumer of crime fiction and a former teacher of psychology to university students abroad, I sincerely hope readers sense my love for both in The Family Bones. And, the next time readers attend a family gathering I hope they think of the Eriksens.