The house was yellow, a clapboard Cape Cod with a white picket fence and a big bay window on one side, and Ellen loved it with all her heart. She loved the way the wind from the Gorge stirred the trees to constant motion outside the windows, the cozy arc of the dormers in the girls’ bedroom, the cherry red mantel with the cleanly carved dentil molding over the fireplace in the living room. She had conceived children in that house, suffered a miscarriage in that house, brought her babies home there, argued with her husband there, made love, rejoiced, despaired, sipped tea, and gossiped and sobbed and counseled and blessed her friends there, walked the halls with sic children there, and scrubbed the worn brick of the kitchen floor there at least a thousand times on her hands and knees. And it was because of all this history with the house, all the parts of her life unfolding there day after day for so many years, that Ellen decided to burn it down.
-House & Home by Kathleen McCleary, first paragraph
I’m very excited to say that House & Home by Kathleen McCleary is the first book I’ve read as part of a virtual book tour. As I am the next to last stop, I don’t know that I will have anything new to say about the book, but I will give it a go anyway.
House & Home is McCleary’s first novel. She is a journalist with articles appearing in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, More, and Health, and on HGTV.com. Overall, it’s a fabulous first book with real, palpable emotions and characters that you can recognize in your own life. My only complaint about the book is that some of the dialogue seemed a bit stinted and forced, and I often found myself wondering if a person would really say something like that.
House & Home is the story of Ellen Flanagan, mother of two daughters and recently separated from her free-spirited, inventor husband. Ellen, always stable, responsible and safe, still loves her more reckless, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants husband Sam, but can no longer stand to be the grown-up in the relationship. The house she loves and has called home for eleven years is mortgaged to the hilt on Sam’s latest invention. After spending their savings to make ends meet – even dipping into their daughter’s college fund – it is painfully obvious the only thing that can be done is sell the house.
However, after meeting the obnoxiously perky new owner Jordan, who gushes about all the stuff she plans to do to the house, Ellen can’t stand the idea of anyone else living in the house that was her and her family’s home. To prevent this, she decides to burn the house down rather than let anyone else to live, love, eat and raise children in it. Let them build a new one, but no one else will inhabit her beloved home.
Adding to her problems, her oldest daughter, ten year old Sara, is having great difficulty dealing with the divorce and move, even to the point of scrounging her birthday money, a donation jar she set up for a fictitious homeless family, and forging a letter, supposedly from Ellen and Sam, to the new owners with the money she thought was what they had paid, $450 (she’d overheard her parents say four fifty was a good offer).
I really enjoyed this book. It was a fast fun read with the occasional emotionally heart-tugging moment, and I could really relate to Ellen’s feelings. I stayed an extra year in a bad relationship just because I loved the house we lived in so much. I had a nice garden, my childhood pet is buried there, and the hash marks on the inside of the pantry door with the dates and names of which child’s height was captured for as long the door hung there unpainted. The people who bought the house has made so many changes to it that it’s no longer recognizable as the home I knew.
Breezy, but with a purpose, I would recommend House & Home as a pleasurable read. I give House & Home 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.