Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: "Housebreaking" by Dan Pope

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

One night in 2007, Benjamin Mandelbaum's wife throws him out of the house and declares their marriage over. The sad thing is, this time he's actually innocent of the infidelity she's accusing him of, but she doesn't care.

With nowhere else to go, he decides to take their dog and move back into his childhood home in Connecticut, to live with his widowed father, Leonard. He's unsure of what his next steps will be, how his children will handle the divorce, and whether he really wants to start sleeping in his old bedroom again, especially as his father embarks upon a relationship (of sorts) with an old friend.

And then one day Benjamin finds out his old high school crush, Audrey Martin, has moved back into the neighborhood along with her lawyer husband and their troubled teenage daughter. Audrey isn't sure if she even remembers Benjamin from high school, but he remembers her all too well, and it's not long before a lonely Audrey allows him the chance to act upon his teenage desires. Yet even as he gets totally caught up in Audrey, he still longs for the comfort and security of his marriage, and misses his estranged wife.

Audrey has her share of issues as well—an emotional secret she's not comfortable sharing with Benjamin; worries about Emily, whose behavior is becoming increasingly erratic; and her strained relationship with her husband, Andrew, a powerful attorney who finds himself caught up in a power struggle in his office, the likes of which he'd never imagined, and one he might not win, which is quite a change for someone who hates to lose.

All of their lives come to a crucial moment one night, a moment which will change each of them. Housebreaking is quite well written and though perhaps slightly melodramatic in places, really compelling. It's a book about marital discord, about unhappiness and grief, which reminded me a little bit of The Ice Storm. It's also a story about trying to control what happens in your life, despite the fact that you have no control over these things whatsoever.

I've never read anything by Dan Pope before, but I was really impressed with his storytelling ability. Although you've seen many of the situations in this book before, somehow in his hands, it seems like a fresh story, and I flew through the book rather quickly. I don't know what it says about me that I find stories of dysfunctional relationships entertaining, but I do know this probably would make a good movie as well.

If suburban melodrama (and I mean that in a positive way) interests you, Dan Pope's Housebreaking is a fine example worth reading.

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