MODEL HOME by Eric Puchner
“Noises echoed down the hall, a din of scrapes and thuds and voices; the sound of his house hemorrhaging around him. He felt cold and helpless but also somehow relieved, as if the worst were finally beginning.”
Review by Bonnie Brody (FEB 8, 2010)
Model Home by Eric Puchner is a novel that takes place during an eighteen-month period between 1985 and 1986 in the Los Angeles area. It is the story of a family that is trying very hard not to fall apart at the seams. Warren, the dad, is a realtor who has invested all of his family’s savings in a housing development that sits far out in the desert right next to a toxic dump site. His investment has gone belly-up. At first, when his car is repossessed, he tells his family that it was stolen. When the creditors come for his living room furniture, he tells his family that he is tired of leasing furniture and that he has ordered much nicer stuff that will arrive next month. Naturally, Warren is acting strangely. His wife, Camille, who works on developing videos for school sex education programs, thinks that Warren is having an affair. When the truth of their bankruptcy comes out, Camille is relieved that Warren’s strangeness is not due to an affair, and for a brief time Warren and Camille find themselves content with one another.
There are three children in the family. Dustin, the oldest, is a good looking teenager with a beautiful girlfriend, who likes to surf and is planning on going to UCLA next year. Gradually, he starts to fall for Taz, his girlfriend’s Goth sister who has scabs on her ears from picking at them and has pulled her own fingernails out. Lyle is the middle child, a girl who feels different and left out of the mainstream. She lives in L.A. and desperately wants a tan but all she can do is burn. She designs t-shirts with monograms like “Death to Sandwiches”or “Like a Sturgeon.” She begins having an affair with Hector, the Mexican security guard at their housing complex. Jonas, 11 years old, is the youngest. He is obsessed with death and is focusing specifically on the murder of a “retarded” girl in their neighborhood. On some days Jonas likes to dress all in orange, including his socks.
The family has been living in a plush housing development way beyond their means. Warren had thought he’d strike it rich with his real estate scheme and that nothing was too good for them. They soon have to leave their cush domain and move into one of Warren’s model homes in the desert – in that very same complex next to the toxic dump site. Naturally, they are the only family living there as no other homes have been sold. Camille now has a three hour round-trip commute for her job and Lyle is living with a friend because it is too far to commute to school. There is no money left to send Dustin to college since they’re broke so he keeps himself busy with his garage band. Jonas is like the lost child.
As the children are growing up, they are pulling away from their parents. Everyone in this novel is wanting to be something more, something better, or something different than who they are. Their ambitions often lead to tragic outcomes. This family has more than one “before” and “after” to face. As they face catastrophes, the reader watches as the thin fiber that has been holding this family together unravels. Despite the unraveling, the novel asks poignant questions about the nature of family and love. Can family members love one another despite the most severe pain, anger, and resentment. Are they still whole once they are damaged? What is the source of love and strength that inspires families to hold on?
Part of the plot deals with a character who gets severely burned. The author speaks with great knowledge about burn units, burn treatment and burn victims. The descriptions are graphic and remind me of scenes in The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. Puchner manages to conjure up the smells, agony, and sounds of a burn unit and the reader is pulled along into this traumatic event.
The writing in this book can be uneven. Sometimes it is so beautiful that it can take your breath away, especially towards the end. However, there are times when it tries to be too clever for its own good. Phrases and sentences seem to be slipped in just because they sound good. Overall, it is a rewarding novel to read. The author ties all his ends together and there are no red herrings among the characters. I appreciate that in a novel. Every character is developed and has his or her place. Each character is unique with their own set of idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. Puchner is a writer to watch and I look forward to new publications from him.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 1 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Scribner (February 9, 2010)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Model Home|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Eric Puchner|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Other books about the families & stressful times:
The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
The Unnamed by Josh Ferris