Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book Review: "Model Home" by Eric Puchner

It's the mid-1980s and Warren Ziller truly believes in the American Dream, so much so that he moves his family from Wisconsin to California to pursue a real estate deal, building affordable homes in the desert. But things don't go quite the way they should, and Warren is trying to hold it together without alerting his family to the impending disaster, despite the fact that his car has been repossessed (he says it was stolen), their furniture has been returned to the company they leased it from (he says he planned to surprise his wife with better furniture) and he is wandering around in a daze waiting for the other shoe to drop.

His wife, Camille, thinks Warren is having an affair and starts enacting her revenge, and his three children have their own issues—Dustin, an affable surfer and aspiring rock musician, finds himself obsessed with his girlfriend's troubled younger sister; Lyle, who has prided herself on being different, is torn between wanting to be popular and maintaining her relationship with a security guard; and Jonas, the youngest, who becomes obsessed with the kidnapping of a local mentally challenged girl. When tragedy strikes, the Zillers must move into one of Warren's model homes in the desert, and then they start to realize the truth about themselves and each other.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. I think Eric Puchner is a really good writer, but I found so many of the characters so unlikeable that I didn't care what happened to them. For me, one of the most frustrating things in a book is when characters won't communicate with each other, and every single character in this book wouldn't say what they meant. The story never quite "hooked" me, although some of Puchner's language was beautiful. And while I felt that the Puchner's depiction of the tragedy was done with a great deal of detail and empathy toward the characters, it just felt forced, as if the family needed a tragedy to come full circle.

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