Monday, December 29, 2014

The Hundred-Year House - Rebecca Makkai

Summary: Meet the Devohrs: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents’ wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there’s Violet Devohr, Zee’s great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and whose massive oil portrait still hangs in the dining room.

Violet’s portrait was known to terrify the artists who resided at the house from the 1920s to the 1950s, when it served as the Laurelfield Arts Colony—and this is exactly the period Zee’s husband, Doug, is interested in. An out-of-work academic whose only hope of a future position is securing a book deal, Doug is stalled on his biography of the poet Edwin Parfitt, once in residence at the colony. All he needs to get the book back on track—besides some motivation and self-esteem—is access to the colony records, rotting away in the attic for decades. But when Doug begins to poke around where he shouldn’t, he finds Gracie guards the files with a strange ferocity, raising questions about what she might be hiding. The secrets of the hundred-year house would turn everything Doug and Zee think they know about her family on its head—that is, if they were to ever uncover them.

In this brilliantly conceived, ambitious, and deeply rewarding novel, Rebecca Makkai unfolds a generational saga in reverse, leading the reader back in time on a literary scavenger hunt as we seek to uncover the truth about these strange people and this mysterious house. With intelligence and humor, a daring narrative approach, and a lovingly satirical voice, Rebecca Makkai has crafted an unforgettable novel about family, fate and the incredible surprises life can offer. (Summary and pic from

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: I wanted to like this book more than I did. First off, I liked the writing style. It was easy to get into and read quickly. I don’t like when I have to slog through the writing in order to get to the story. So that was a good thing.  Also, the story is told backwards, which is kind of cool and different. Not shocking and unheard of, but a little outside of the norm. Does this make it confusing? Yes.

But I guess my problem was the story. I mean, I wanted to like the story more. Maybe I’m just insensitive to artists or the artists’ plight or something, but after reading the entire book I was hoping for a little more explanation about why. You know how some books just beg the question why? Like “Why was this written?” “What was the point of this?” This book was like that for me. I just can’t figure out what the point was. The author’s acknowledgement at the end gave what I thought pretty much summed it up: “Artists need a community.” So there ya go. I guess they do? I mean. Sure. They do.

There were some interesting moments and some interesting characters, but by and large I didn’t like any of the characters (I really have a problem with people who have little to no morals and couldn’t care less about it. Also. Antisocial people. Like the DSM definition of “antisocial” wherein they try to ruin other’s lives while posing as a completely normal person. That kind of antisocial). So the characters weren’t likeable and the one character who was interesting is a ghost but is never really discussed at length nor fleshed out (haha), to the point where she actually never became much of anything. So I was left with this rag tag bunch of people (artists, you know, who need a community) and they’re doing weird things and living their [pretty much] immoral lives and there ya go. And by immoral I don’t mean the homosexuality in this book, I just mean in general that the characters do immoral things and don’t really care.

Also—I was confused. I was confused about the characters and what was happening, and sometimes I felt like there were things that were happening that should have been more obvious to me and I should have caught, but I didn’t. I could feel it just out of my reach. Or maybe I wanted there to be something and there wasn’t? I’m still not sure.

In the end, here’s what you have—characters I didn’t personally like with a mundane story with a few blips of weirdness here and there. And artists. But at least it’s all presented well.

My rating: 2 stars.

For the sensitive reader: There isn’t much language although there is some suggested sexual promiscuity, some of it homosexual.

1 comment:

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I didn't like this book either...but can't remember a thing about it, that's how unmemorable it was.


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