The roast’s being reheated, the guest room is full, and the family members seem to be multiplying. You love them, sure. You just hate the way grandma picks the corn out of her dentures, and how Aunt Rita’s chain email–fueled diatribes were in full force before the apple pie even hit the table.
By the seventh thinly veiled question about your relationship status, you might be looking for a tryptophan escape hatch. Until you can pry your relatives, stomachs laden with enough cranberry sauce to sink ships, off the furniture and pour them into their cars, however, you’re stuck. The predicament is a sticky one, to be sure, but the solution, as always, is to curl up with a good book in whatever vacant corner you can find—probably the one farthest from the television set and proximal snores from the Barcaloungers. Here are a few escapist reads filled with everything you might need right now: empty houses, isolated narrators, unpopulated wilderness, and house guests worse than yours.
The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones
Quirky as they may, the people in your home were at least invited. Jones’ deftly funny take on the rituals of the Edwardian country estate set features the following: a proud, moneyed family on its last financial leg, frustrated servants who would put Mrs. Patmore to shame, an exorbitantly large empty house, a terrible birthday party, and a trainload of sudden, mysterious, unwanted house guests. Did I mention that spacious manor was large enough for a wildling child to lure a horse to her upstairs bedroom without anyone noticing?
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
Twenty or 30 years on a mostly deserted island ought to fix your familial claustrophobia. (Though at least your kin probably aren’t cannibals. We hope.) If you haven’t finished weaving your own fishing net by the last page of Defoe’s tale of survival, please turn your attention to Robinson Crusoe for the grade-school set: Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.
The Adventure of the Empty House, by Arthur Conan Doyle
In Sherlock Holmes’ return from the dead, the detective and Dr. Watson spend a good portion of the story camped out in an abandoned house across from 221B trying to capture Moriarty’s beta, Col. Sebastian Moran. It is exceedingly bromantic. Doyle also inadvertently lends a survival strategy to those who are less than enthusiastic about participating in that 10th Yahtzee game with competitive cousins: make a realistic wax version of yourself, set it at the kitchen table, and have your kindly housekeeper move the figure just enough to simulate lifelike gesticulation.
The Visible Man, by Chuck Klosterman
To be clear, Klosterman has not created a central character whom you would call likable. He is actually a terrible little person. But because it is Klosterman, Y___ is also a funny terrible person. His therapist, while generally a decent sort, makes generally bad decisions. But you’ll probably be most interested in one thing: Y___’s stolen-from-the-government cloaking technology that renders him largely unseeable. Hey, you’ve probably got a better chance of procuring this than an Invisibility Cloak.
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
Cross-listed as: Hermit Preparation Kit, Vol. 1. Come for the secluded lifestyle and immersion in peaceful, spiritually satisfying nature. Stay for the tips on cultivating beans.
The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
If the woods aren’t a far enough escape, then try another planet. There’s a lovely mansion left unattended on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Nothing but you and the pool and Titanian birds, really, on the whole moon. Ask a Tralfamadorian travel agent for deals in your area.
The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
A young author cranking out sensationalist novels in an abandoned mansion. If you stopped reading there, David Martín’s story would be a dream come true. Unfortunately, things go downhill for David. But it’s perfectly fine to relish his hauntingly empty house, and even better to imagine losing yourself in the desolate maze of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
The Fall of the House of Usher, by Edgar Allan Poe
Finally, keep this in mind: things in your home could always be worse. And if you have a hard time remembering that, read on to The Masque of the Red Death.
What’s your favorite escapist read?