As its title suggests, Tracey Lange’s debut novel, We Are the Brennans, tells the story of the Brennans, a large Irish American family that’s long been established in Westchester County, New York. But the novel opens in Los Angeles, where Sunday, the only Brennan daughter, has gotten herself banged up in a drunk-driving accident.
Sunday left home abruptly five years ago, and after the crash, eldest brother Denny persuades her to return. Their dad, Mickey, shows signs of dementia; middle brother Jackie’s on probation after a drug charge; youngest brother Shane has developmental disabilities; and Denny is struggling to pay the bills at the pub he runs with best friend Kale (who is Sunday’s ex-fiancé).
With Sunday back in the family house, the other characters' secrets, and the ways those secrets have burdened them, come to light. Denny’s trouble is most apparent at first; his wife has moved out, taking their young daughter with her, and his financial troubles are much worse than we initially see. The other Brennans face their own challenges as well. Each chapter follows a family member, beginning with a repeated line of dialogue from the previous chapter, an intriguing structure that links the characters and offers a wider perspective while also propelling the reader along.
We Are the Brennans is well plotted, offering plenty of action, but it shines brightest in depicting family relationships, love mixed with resentment and guilt, and in character development. The Brennan siblings are believably flawed, their troubles multifaceted. The family house and Denny and Kale’s bar are almost characters, too, well depicted throughout: “Sunday climbed the porch, stepped across the threshold, and slammed into the familiar mixed aroma of old wood, black tea, and fresh laundry.”
We Are the Brennans is firmly in the vein of Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes and J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions, though not as literary in its prose style. It’s a page-turner in the best way, slowly doling out the family’s life-altering secrets. We root for the Brennans the whole way through, waiting for them to face hard truths about one another and, we hope, to move forward together.