September 8, 2009
House and Home
House and Home by Kathleen McCleary
2008 Voice (Hyperion Books)
Finished on 8/31/09
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)
A woman who loves her house so much that she can't bear for another woman to have it. So she decides to burn it down instead.
At 44, Ellen Flanagan has two adorable girls to raise and a fabulous, cozy coffee shop to run. Her favorite role, though, is as homeowner. Having lived in her house for ten years, she knows each nook and dent, is best friends with her next-door neighbor, and has memorized every Douglas fir she can see through her bedroom window. But her husband, Sam, who's charismatic, spontaneous, and utterly irresponsible, has disappointed her in more ways than she can live with--and their divorce means that Ellen is forced to give up her most treasured place on earth.
Add to that an unexpected relationship with a man who is off-limits, two daughters who don't want to move either, and confusion over how she really feels about her almost-ex-husband, and you have the makings of a delicious novel about what matters most in the end--and what makes a house a home.
Meh. I was really looking forward to finally reading this novel. I got the ARC a year ago (!!) and figured it was about time to give it a read, especially since it's already come and gone in hardcover. I threw it in my suitcase and wound up reading it almost in its entirety on our flight home from Virginia Beach last week. I was quickly engrossed and the pages flew, but the further along I read, I knew it wasn't going to be a keeper. Ellen's constant whining about losing her house began to wear on me. After a few chapters I felt the author had belabored this (and several other points) long enough and needed to move on with the story. I also felt the writing was a bit unpolished and that McCleary stated the obvious on too many occasions. For instance, this paragraph caught my attention:
"Well, yes, but I didn't mean to," said Ellen, gazing out the window again at the yellow house. It was riveting; she couldn't tear her eyes away from it. "I thought she already knew. Did you see the look on her face? Something's not right in Denmark, as Shakespeare would say."
First of all, shouldn't that be "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark?" And secondly, show, don't tell. Have another character make a joke about Shakespeare if you assume your readers aren't familiar with this famous quote!
And then there's this passage:
Ellen moved through the next two weeks in a fog. As each day ticked off, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, she had a growing sense of unreality.
Hmmmm, I'm pretty sure everyone understands what it means when one says "as each day ticked off." Personally, I think "ticked off" isn't even a good choice. Maybe "ticked by?"
Sure these are minor quibbles, but combined with the long, drawn out drama, I feel this book could have used a little more editorial finesse. Would I have finished had I not been stuck on a long flight? Probably. It wasn't terrible, and I did enjoy the setting (Portland, Oregon) and the details of Ellen's coffee shop. But even for fluff, it's not one I'd recommend.