The weather may have taken a turn for the better, but books provide a fine excuse for staying home — perhaps by an open window instead of an open fire. Whether you’re in the mood for vengeance-drenched Greek drama, a thorough examination of our nation’s current identity crisis or a cozy psychological thriller, there’s a book for that. Here are three titles, all with “house” in the name, that will make you want stay in yours and read.
Salman Rushdie has written the first notable novel of the current political-cultural era with The Golden House. At the book’s center is 70-something Nero Golden, who has “been a deal-maker all his life.” There’s even a wealthy presidential candidate with green hair who calls himself “The Joker.” The novel has been compared by many to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and Tom Wolf’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” It’s a little of both. But for anyone familiar with Rushdie’s work, it’s unmistakably his, spinning universal truths and observations in a way that seems uniquely his own.
The Nick Carraway of the book is Rene, a neighbor and aspiring filmmaker who wants to make a mockumentary about the intriguing billionaire family that has just moved into “The Gardens” in New York’s Greenwich Village. Rene not only narrates what he observes of the Goldens, but what he imagines of them, much in the same way that people do in real life. Sections of the book are rendered as scripts and treatments, and Rene admits, “I’m not sure anymore what’s real and what I made up.” Set against the backdrop of the current cultural and political landscape, House focuses on America’s identity crisis and the concept of shedding one’s skin to recreate one’s self. If there were a real Museum of Identity, this book would be in the library.
Acclaimed Irish novelist Colm Tóibín has, throughout his career, tackled voices as diverse and distant from one another as Ireland is from Brooklyn: the life of Henry James, Irish immigrants in 20th century New York and an aging Mary musing the fate of her son Jesus. He also tends to write about family — mothers and daughters, husbands and wives. In his latest, House of Names, he turns to the drama of ancient Greece for a retelling of the story of Clytemnestra and the House of Atreus. Inspired by the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, Tóibín’s House is more an imaginative reinterpretation than a simple retelling. At the novel’s center is the matriarch of the family, Clytemnestra, who comes to enjoy her part in the cycle of revenge. The reader is led to not only understand her desire, but to root for it. “Our appeal to the gods is the same as the appeal a star makes in the sky above us before it falls,” Clytemnestra muses. “It is a sound we cannot hear, a sound to which, even if we did hear it, we would be fully indifferent.” Tóibín shifts much of the story’s blame from deities and the fates to the shoulders of the characters themselves — their psychologies, choices and human failings. Colm Tóibín has once again written a book about family, but not a very loving or functional one this time around.
If the houses of Rushdie and Tóibín seem a bit weighty, Shari Lapena’s A Stranger in the House may be a cozier place to dwell. Karen Krupp, a suburban bookkeeper and housewife, leaves home in a hurry and ends up wrecking her car in a sketchy part of town, only a few blocks from a murder. At the hospital, she has no recollection of where she was going or what she was doing, something the police (who repeatedly question her) find convenient and unconvincing. As the evidence piles up in support of her involvement with the murder, her “friend” across the street spies on her and her husband, Tom, with hopes to rekindle an old flame. Somewhat predictable, this domestic mystery is a breezy read, which may be just the book you want to crack open during these complicated times.
Eric D. Goodman is author of “Womb: a novel in utero.” Learn more at EricDGoodman.com.