House of Sand and Fog (Oprah's Book Club) by Andre Dubus III

October 2, 2007

lyzadanger’s review: “The dust jacket calls this novel: “…a masterstroke of American realism and Shakespearean consequence. It is an American tragedy, and a shockingly true picture of the country we live in today.

American, yes. Tragic and Shakespearean? OK. Shocking? Sorta. “True picture of the country we live in today”? I’m not quite buying it.

I knew what I was in for when I picked this up off of my to-read shelf. I’ve been told. It’s depressing, it’s a rough time. I spent the first half of the novel kind of hating the characters, and the second half scratching my head and waiting for the nightmare’s outcome. And what a fantastic nightmare! This book’s denouement lasts a good third of the book and never really lets up.

What drove me to distraction was the characters, the exposure of what was their inner voices and motivations. There’s Kathy Nicolo, our female protagonist, who plays lassez-faire with her life and seems continually surprised when things happen in the real world. There’s the cop, who I just can’t quite believe: leaving his wife and kids and effectively going on a crime spree (I’ll leave the resolution to the reader here).

The Iranian family in the middle of this represent the most interesting characters to me, though the ex-military, honor-obsessed father figure is not who I’m really talking about. The sweet teenage kid and the wife–whose role as both Iranian wife and American resident are pretty much an impossible combination–make parts of this book glow with humanity.

But back to “shockingly true picture of the country we live in today.” I, naive as I may be, don’t feel this is the case. Two things. One minor: this book seems markedly dated. I kept looking back at the flyleaf to verify that it was indeed copyrighted 1999. It felt like it was from the 80s, repeatedly talking about “cassette tapes” and really bad outfits. But the thing that blew me over was how quickly every major character in the book devolved into class and ethnic hatred at the drop of a hat. Perhaps I’m just “enlightened”, but that, uh, never happens to me, or anyone I know. I guess I’m over-simplifying here, but maybe I’m living in a different segment of American reality?”

W. W. Norton & Company (1999), Hardcover, 365 pages
tags: fiction, novel, national book award finalist, read, readin2007, 50 book challenge, california, tragedy, immigration, iran, iranian