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Monday, April 21, 2014

House of Sand and Fog

I saw this movie (based on the book) many years ago and found it absolutely stunning, so while I was at my favorite bookstore ever, Read It Again, while I was home visiting I picked up Andre Dubus III's House of Sand and Fog for my plane ride.

A former Iranian army colonel, having fled with his family to America, sees a better life for himself and his children in the purchasing of a property at auction. It is the last of his savings, but he can triple the price and change careers. The house used to belong to a broken young woman who feels it was taken from her unjustly--and although it might have been, the events that lead to their explosive confrontation may leave them all shattered and empty handed, in more ways than one.

This is not a book you race through in order to find out what is at the end; the journey is far more important than the destination. It is a masterpiece of pathos, one that follows the story arc though until the bitter end and allows the characters to become who they were always meant to be. It is a truly astounding piece of work.

I read Dubus's The Garden of Last Days a few years ago and was just blown away at his remarkable prose. He writes in such an intelligent undercurrent that it feels as though you are being given a gift, one that is just for you and thoughtfully picked out, the right size and the right color and the right shape and you just don't know how the person could have known it's exactly what you wanted. He has this way of crafting his sentences so that they draw you in and hook you before you even know what is happening. It is like getting drunk on mulled wine--it is just too good to put down and too addicting to walk away from.

House is a truly stunning piece of work, one that I just found myself mentally weeping over time and again. I had such sympathy for Kathy even though she is not a sympathetic character. She loses her house because she ignores the notices from the county tax register. It is her fault even though it was a bureaucratic mistake, and she can't seem to ever take responsibility for being an adult. It is what I loved best about her. She has little to no grown-up functioning about her, cleaning houses to make ends meet and unable to admit to her family that her husband left her months ago. It is sad and pathetic, yet painfully raw.

I also very much wanted Behrani to keep the home even though I also felt Kathy's pain and wanted her to have it as well. I know what it is like to want to make a better life for myself, and I recognized this doggedness in Behrani and I very much understood his stubbornness to not give in even though he could have easily just given back the home. It is heartbreaking to watch the events unfold, to watch Kathy's lover Lester made decisions that are reckless and quasi-romantic only to watch them blow up in his face, in Kathy's face, and cause him to lose everything he loves. It is a train wreck you see coming and can't stop watching. That may be the most remarkable thing about Dubus--you don't want to turn away.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

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