Dream Houseby Valerie Laken
“The perfect haunted house story for these unnerving times.” —New York Times
Dream House, the riveting debut novel from Pushcart Prize-winning author Valerie Laken, tells the story of one troubled house—the site of a domestic drama that will forever change the lives of two families. Embracing volatile issues such as race,/b>/b>… See more details below
“The perfect haunted house story for these unnerving times.” —New York Times
Dream House, the riveting debut novel from Pushcart Prize-winning author Valerie Laken, tells the story of one troubled house—the site of a domestic drama that will forever change the lives of two families. Embracing volatile issues such as race, class, and gentrification, while seamlessly mixing genres as diverse as crime fiction, suspense, and home renovation, Dream House is a “sexy, sharp-eyed, deeply haunted, [and] wonderful book.” (Charles Baxter, author of the National Book Award finalist The Feast of Love)
The New York Times
A classic money pit scenario offers insights into the fragility of home, family and neighborhood in Pushcart Prize-winner Laken's thoughtful debut. Kate and her husband, Stuart, have been living a student lifestyle-complete with all-night parties and a rundown apartment-since leaving college seven years before. When Kate's parents help them buy their own home, they don't know that the handyman special was the site of a murder nearly 20 years earlier. Nor do they expect that the fixer-upper will be the wedge that drives them further apart. When Stuart walks away from their gutted home in the middle of Kate's ambitious remodeling, Kate forms new relationships with two men who have ties to the murder and the house. At times, the metaphoric potential in Kate and Stuart's cursed home overshadows the storytelling. For the most part, however, Laken avoids foundering in obvious symbolism, instead offering compelling reflections on broad issues such as neighborhood gentrification and the American dream as well as the personal struggles involved with marriage, family and the creation of a home. (Feb.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In her first novel, Pushcart Prize winner Laken puts four people inside a "dream house." Kate and Stuart buy the house hoping to improve their marriage, but they hit the rocks when they learn of the house's grim past. Walker revisits the house, where he grew up and where the murder that sent him to prison occurred. Jay goes to the house to visit his colleague Kate and realizes that it's the place he was called to clean after the murder investigation was done. In the end, the characters have changed more than they would have ever imagined. Laken's novel has the feel of her short stories with its detailed examination of the characters' inner lives. The atmosphere of the house is entrancing, but the meetings of the main characters seem forced, as though they are all starring in their own separate novels. Still, Laken is an excellent writer, and the story is enjoyable. Recommended for larger libraries and academic collections.
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- 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
Eighteen years later. In an apartment in Ann Arbor. In a bedroom hardly bigger than the full bed it contained, Kate Kinzler was waking up. Pinned down by the sandbags of her husband's limbs, she closed her eyes again, but the dream came back: she was barreling through a grocery-store parking lot, inexplicably fast—45, 50 mph. She was stomping on the brakes to no effect when a sleek brown Thoroughbred stepped into the aisle, in front of her. A smash of glass and metal, and his body flew through the air. She saw it through the sunroof, impossibly high and falling toward her fast. When she managed to wrestle the car to a stop, he had cracked the pavement, and was writhing and heaving, staring at her. Kate blinked at the dim ceiling. If she fell back asleep, it would go on, get worse. Her dreams often ended in catastrophes of her own making. She woke up most mornings wound tight and careful, trying not to live out any of her dreams.
It was a Sunday, six a.m. Late March, though through the window it still looked like February—lead gray and barren, with sparse piles of snow lining the streets. The trees were budless and black. Next to her, Stuart was giving off a faint snore, huffing out traces of rum. They'd thrown a party last night, and now the tiny bedroom was littered with dirty clothes and half-empty beer bottles. Stale smoke wafted in from the living room, which was a mess of spills and dirty dishes. They were twenty-nine, full grown, seven years out of college. And still living like this.
She peeled herself out from under Stuart, trying not to look at him. His snoring stoppedfor a second, and she held still until it resumed. From the pile of clothes she put on a sweatshirt and a pair of socks, and pulled her long, frizzy red curls into a knot on the top of her head. Muscling open the window, she crawled out onto the porch roof, a mild slope of black tar with cigarette butts scattered around, dropped from the window above by the three college guys who rented the attic apartment. She kicked them toward the gutters and sat down against the wall, drawing her arms and knees up into the sweatshirt.
They lived on Packard Street, at the edge of the student neighborhood strewn with plastic cups and abandoned couches. It was just a few blocks from the dorms they'd lived in as undergrads, and just thirty miles from the Detroit suburb where she'd grown up.
"Hey." Stuart stuck his head out the window.
His sandy, curly hair was mussed, his brown eyes still half-lidded with sleep. He had their blue comforter wrapped around his shoulders, like a boy with a cape. He smiled, locking his eyes on hers as if performing a magic trick in which everything except her disappeared from the world.
This was how he got her. Suddenly she thought of Bloody Marys and breakfast, a shower and sex and a morning in bed.
But then it took him two tries to squeeze through the window—he was thin, but clumsy and tall, and plainly still drunk. He dragged their new blanket across the damp, dirty tar and plopped down next to her with a thud that shook the porch. She pulled away. This was how it went lately: her rushes of feeling for him were so brief, so fragile.
"What time did you come to bed?" she said.
"I don't know. After three? Oh, you missed it—Billy told this story about when he was studying abroad in St. Petersburg—"
"And got beat up by the cops?"
"How'd you know that?"
"And had to sneak out of the hospital in his underwear?"
Stuart nodded incredulously.
Billy had been telling that story for years. They'd been hanging out with the same friends—mostly Stuart's—since college. They got drunk and had the same conversations over and over.
"I never heard it," Stuart said, mystified.
Kate sat quietly, watching the cars move up and down along Packard Street, a 30 mph zone that never cleared out. To the Laundromat. The food co-op. To church, to breakfast, to Kinko's. Each car probably filled with pairs of mad, wild lovers.
"Do I have to go to your folks' today?" he said after a while.
It was her dad's birthday. "Nah. If you do the laundry?"
He fell sideways in relief until his head landed in her lap, heavy as a bowling ball.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing," she said.
He reached one hand up to her jaw. "What did you dream?"
She tilted her head away as politely as possible.
She had tried drinking, exercising, pills from her doctor—for anxiety, for depression, for sleep. She had tried buying things, cooking, reading books. She had tried telling herself everyone probably felt this way about their partner sooner or later. But she didn't believe it. No one had ever admitted such a thing to her.
They watched a college-age couple carrying duffel bags into the Laundromat across the street. The girl gave the guy a bump on the ass with her bag, and he stumbled and laughed, then held the door for her. The cars hissed past on the street, a white noise that you forgot about inside, though it was always there, if you listened.
"You should just skip your parents'," he said. "You always get this way when you go there. And then depressed after. Always."
Kate came from strivers. Stuart had been a break from all that. The first time she met him, she was hiding out at her usual corner table in the basement of the library, studying for a calculus midterm and twirling a strand of hair from the base of her skull around her index finger. Whenever her mind got soft or sleepy, she snapped off a single hair at the root and felt herself spring to attention. She'd lined up an almost perfect column of A's on her transcript. And whenever she got scared about her lack of a plan for life after graduation, she pulled out her transcript and felt her heart slow down.Dream House. Copyright © by Valerie Laken. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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