Still Living With My Parents*

Living With ParentsNot long ago, I came across this article about the rising number of young people living with their parents instead of on their own. There are, of course, a lot of reasons for which adults might choose to (or need to) live with parents. And sometimes that arrangement can work quite well.

Even in the best of situations, though, adults who live with their parents face certain challenges (and so do their parents). On the one hand, there is the old adage, ‘My home, my rules.’ And there’s the history involved. On the other, that former child is now an adult, with adult decision-making authority. That alone can make for friction. It’s a case, really, of two households living under the same roof.

Despite those occasional difficulties, there are plenty of people who live with their parents. That includes several crime-fictional sleuths. Space only permits a few examples here, but they’ll serve to make my meaning clear.

Fans of Ellery Queen will know that, in several of the Queen stories, he lives with his father, Inspector Richard Queen. They don’t always agree about everything, but they don’t have a lot of the friction that you sometimes see when adult children live with their parents. They have a shared interest in criminal investigation, and that’s really the focus of the books.

One of S.J. Rozan’s sleuths is Chinese-American Chin Ling Wan-Ju, who usually goes by the name Lydia Chin. She’s a PI who mostly serves the Chinese and Chinese-American community of New York City. Occasionally, she partners with Bill Smith, also a PI. Chin has a successful business, but finds that it’s easier to live with her mother, Chin Yong-Yun, than it would be to try to afford a place of her own. And if you’re familiar with the cost of living in New York City, then you’ll understand that point of view. On the one hand, the arrangement works reasonably well. Lydia respects her mother, who keeps several of the traditional Chinese customs.  She has a sense of filial obligation, and she does love her family. On the other, Yong-Yun does not really approve of her daughter’s occupation. She’d much prefer it if Lydia found someone special, got married, and had a less dangerous sort of job. And, like any caring parent, she worries for her daughter’s safety. The two do have their moments of conflict, but by and large, they get along.

Under the name of Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill writes a series featuring Port Dundas, Ontario, DCI Hazel Micallef. She’s in her sixties, and the mother of grown children. She’s also the daughter of octogenarian Emily Micallef, former mayor of Port Dundas. The two live together, and that sometimes makes for some friction. For one thing, they are both strong-willed and independent, and they don’t always agree. For another, each does care about the other, and each wants what’s best for the other. That means they sometimes clash on that level, too. Here’s an example of what I mean from The Calling:

‘Hazel smelled bacon. ‘Eat,’ said her mother.
‘I’ll wait for the bacon.’
‘No meat for you, my girl, this is for me.’
Hazel stared down at the anemic omelet on the plate. ‘This isn’t food for a grown woman, Mother,’ she said.
‘Protein. And fiber. That’s your breakfast. Eat it.’ She stared at her daughter until she picked up a fork.’

In a lot of ways, they are more alike than either likes to admit.

Anna Jaquiery’s series features Commandant Serge Morel of the Paris Police. He’s found it easier to live with his ageing father Philippe, a former diplomat, than it would be to live on his own. For one thing, he keeps very odd hours, and it’s nice not to come home to an empty place. Those odd hours also mean that it’s harder for him to check in on his father and make sure that he’s well. Living in the same house allows him more time with his father, and a better sense of how he’s doing.  And that makes life easier for his father, too. The two don’t always agree, but they do care about each other, and they have a solid bond.

Eva Dolan’s DS Melinda ‘Mel’ Ferreira of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit is an immigrant from Portugal. She and her family moved to England when she was a child, so she’s become fluent in English, and adept at English culture. Her family, though, is still Portuguese, and we see that in her interactions with them. Ferreira isn’t married and doesn’t have a partner, so she lives with her parents. In some ways, the arrangement works very well. For Ferreira’s part, it costs much less to live with her parents. And there’s someone there to care whether she got home safely and whether she’s well. For her parents’ part, it’s good to have her close at hand when they need help at the pub they own. And the arrangement’s consistent with their own culture and perspectives.

And then there’s Ausma Zehanat Khan’s Sergeant Rachel Getty of the Community Policing Section (CPS) of the Canadian federal government. We first meet Getty in The Unquiet Dead, in which she works with her boss, Esa Khattak, to solve the mysterious death of successful business executive Christopher Drayton. In a sub-plot of this novel, we learn that Getty lives with her very dysfunctional parents. Life at home is often miserable for her, but she has a specific and important reason for staying. Years ago, her brother Zachary ‘Zach’ left home, mostly as a result of that dysfunction. She’s been trying to find him since then, and hasn’t stopped hoping he’ll come home. If so, she wants to be there and work to mend their relationship. In this case, living with parents is an unpleasant experience, but Getty puts up with it for reasons that she thinks are more important than her own well-being.

As you can see, there are a lot of reasons for which adults might live with their parents. Sometimes it works very well, and sometimes not so well. But either way, that dynamic can add a lot to a crime novel or series.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Treephort’s Adult Themes.


Filed under Anna Jaquiery, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Ellery Queen, Eva Dolan, Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, S.J. Rozan

23 responses to “Still Living With My Parents*

  1. Very interesting to hear how the relationships are an integral part of their personalities and how they are faced with every day issues in addition to being heroes and heroines.

  2. Tim

    Theory: older offerings in the genre — pre-1940s for example — might include more multi-generation families under the same roof since it was then more common in American and English society, but I cannot think of any examples.
    Another theory: different cultural and ethnic settings for the genre — not American and English — might include different examples of family arrangements, but — again — I cannot think of any useful examples.
    Third theory: Other people almost always know much more about the genre than I do.
    Note: the third theory is instantly provable.

    • You know more than you think you do, Tim. And i think you make interesting points about the impact of goth era and culture on the phenomenon of multigenerational families living under the same roof. It’s quite possible that economic situations also play a role. When times are not good, it’s harder for people to find houses of their own, so sharing simply makes more financial sense. It’s really interesting to consider how all of these factors come into play, isn’t it?

  3. I’m not sure I’ve read a book where the police officer lived at home, but Eva Dolan’s is high on my list of books to be read.

    • I really recommend Dolan’s work, Rebecca. The plots are interesting and really engaging, and the characters are solidly developed I think. And I like the way Dolan gets at some important social issues without (at least for me) preaching.

  4. I think in both PD James books and Elizabeth George’s there are detectives with problems with aging parents – though perhaps they don’t live with them. And also in Mark Billingham’s books I think.

    • Right you are, Moira. And I think in both cases, there’d be even more stress and challenge if they did live with them. That sharing of two households under one room, especially with the history that’s so often involved, an add a lot of tension to a story.

  5. I can’t think of any examples either, but I enjoyed reading yours. I suspect with the crash and the near impossibility of young people getting into the housing market at the moment that it might be something we see more of for the next few years at least.

    • Oh, I’d guess so, FictionFan. It is nearly impossible for young people (even couples where both are working) to save enough up for a decent home these days. So the ‘living with parents’ arrangement probably will continue to get more and more common, at least for the short run.

  6. I’m reminded of Post Mortem where Kate Scarpetta’s niece comes to live with her. She causes so many problems for Kate, too, including not allowing her to have her boyfriend spend time there. Patricia Cornwell does a fantastic job of weaving the personal with the profession life of Kate Scarpetta.

    • That’s an interesting example, Sue. It shows how that living-with-relatives plot point can work the other way, too. There are certainly cases where sleuths have people come to live with them.

  7. Margot, it never occurred to me that fictional sleuths could have parents — they’re usually all by themselves or at best with their live-in partners. On a related note, the great Indian joint family system is on the decline. This is because of the rise in nuclear families and the migration of children to the West. But it’s still very common for sons to stay with their parents long after they are married. First, there is the familial and emotional attachment. Second, parents help look after their son or daughter’s children while the latter are at work. And third, sons and daughters look after their parents in their old age. In that sense, family values are still very strong in this country.

    • Thank you, Prashant, for that insight. I’m not really surprised, given the strength of family in most Indian cultures. But it’s nice to hear it from someone who knows. As for crime fiction, I sometimes think those details about sleuths’ parents, etc., can add character depth.

  8. Col

    I’ll check back in 10 years and let you know how many of my off spring are still living at home! they’re 20 and almost 18. A part of me still hopes they are! My wife’s reading Eva Dolan at the minute – my turn soon.

    • I hope you’ll like Dolan’s work, Col. I think she’s really talented. And it will be interesting to see whether you actually get a proverbial empty nest or not. I know what you mean about feeling a bit torn about that.

  9. kathyd

    I read Anita Nair’s book, “A Cut Like Wound,” and one character lives with his wife, children and parents in one house. Inevitably, the daughter-in-law is caring for three generations, cleaning, cooking. I don’t know how anyone does that, but this is prevalent in so many cultures. My feminist self doesn’t know how this is possible, but it still goes on in many countries.
    And, yes, the number of adult children living with their parents in the U.S. is staggering. It’s mostly economic, as rents and houses are expensive and many new jobs are low-paying. But, yikes, I can’t imagine it.
    And some entire families are moving back in with in-laws due to job loss or other economic problems. This must be so difficult. Far better than homelessness for families, but sadly that exists, too.
    In Italy, as someone reminded the audience on a TV show, it’s common for adult sons to live with their parents for as long as they can — free meals, laundry done, etc.
    No wonder the birth rate there is low: the women are overworked.

    • You’re quite right, Kathy. There are several cultures where it’s the custom for several generations to live under the same roof. And it is happening a lot here in the US. A lot of that’s for economic reasons, and so there’s the add pressure of finance as well. And yes, it happens in other cultures as a matter of course. That’s one reason for which I think it’s really interesting to explore it in crime fiction, too. It really is a real phenomenon, and makes for all sorts of possibilities in terms of character development and plot. Thanks, also, for mentioning A Cut Like Wound. I hear good things about that one.

  10. Pingback: Writing Links…6/13/16 – Where Worlds Collide

  11. kathyd

    A Cut Like Wound was OK, nothing I would particularly recommend like Kishwar Desai’s books and some others. It was pretty brutal. But the three-generation household in Bangalore, India, interested me, especially the workload of the daughter-in-law.

  12. tracybham

    I have read Ellery Queen, S. J. Rozan, and Inger Ash Wolfe books, but none of the others. Interesting to see the different relationships between child and parent in those books. I had not thought about it but the parent / child relationships enrich these books. I have not read any of the Ellery Queen series in a while, but I have watched some of the TV series and the actors are wonderful in those episodes.

    • I really liked that television series, too, Tracy, so I’m glad you mentioned it. I agree with you, too: it’s interesting to see how the parent/child relationship is portrayed in cases where sleuths live with one or both of their parents. I think it does add to the stories.

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