Dream House
  • Dream House
  • Dream House

Dream House

3.6 10
by Valerie Laken
     
 

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“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,

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Overview

“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)

Editorial Reviews

Buffalo News
“An interesting, worthy debut. It’s not every book that will appeal to people who like old houses and those who love a shivery story; this one does. For that, kudos.”
New York Times
“The perfect haunted house story for these unnerving times.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Laken is masterful at character construction as she explores issues of race and class and conveys the wreckage of individual lives and the emotions evoked by a house that is the source of joy and dreams as well as the site of tragedy.”
Booklist
"Laken is masterful at character construction as she explores issues of race and class and conveys the wreckage of individual lives and the emotions evoked by a house that is the source of joy and dreams as well as the site of tragedy."
Charles Baxter
“A perfectly plausible and rational ghost story: sexy, sharp-eyed, and deeply haunted all at once. The past never goes away. It is still there, inside the walls of this wonderful book.”
Peter Ho Davies
“A psychologically engrossing novel about the homes we make—in our houses, in our neighborhoods, and in the hearts of our loved ones. Laken takes on that great unspoken American subject—class—and does so with frankness, acuity and surpassing feeling. DREAM HOUSE is a memorable debut novel from a fully mature talent.”
Eileen Pollack
“In DREAM HOUSE, Valerie Laken has built for us an elegantly constructed novel with quietly polished yet dazzling lines, and she has peopled it with heartbreakingly convincing characters.”
Nancy Reisman
“DREAM HOUSE is a novel of great reckoning. . . . Laken’s deft, generous, and brave debut will stay with you long after you’ve closed its covers.”
Nicholas Delbanco
“DREAM HOUSE tells the compelling tale of those to whom a roof means more than merely shelter. . . . It’s a complex story—and Valerie Laken tells it with great skill. From first to final page, hers is a beautifully built novel and an astonishing debut.”
Marilyn Stasio
Valerie Laken has written the perfect haunted house story for these unnerving times. While the ghosts that come with this property don't rattle chains or shake the bed at night, they manifest themselves in subtler and crueler ways, by reminding us that the homes we love may not love us back.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

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.)

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Library Journal

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.
—Amy Ford

Kirkus Reviews
In Laken's debut novel, a young couple tries to salvage their shaky marriage by buying a rundown house in a gentrifying Ann Arbor neighborhood. Laken (Creative Writing/Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) first takes us to that house on a July night in 1987, when it's just been the scene of a shooting. At least one person is dead, we learn, and Walker Price, eldest son of the black family that lived there, is in jail. Eighteen years later, Kate Kinzler ruefully contemplates the crummy Ann Arbor apartment she shares with husband Stuart. When they met, his easygoing ways were a relief from the high expectations of Kate's affluent, hypercritical father. But at 29, Kate is tired of living like an undergraduate and tired of aimless Stuart as well. He knows it, so when Dad flourishes a big check to house-hunt with, Stuart swallows his resentment. But he seethes while Kate undertakes obsessive renovations and finally walks out shortly after they learn their new home was the scene of a murder. Alternating chapters introduce Walker, out of jail at age 36, and it's clear he will cross paths with the troubled woman who bought his family's house. But Laken's careful plotting never seems contrived. The author so perceptively examines her varied cast's personal conflicts and social anxieties that the few big coincidences feel real, the sort of improbable conjunctions that happen in real life. Laken makes palpable the huge role that homes play in people's sense of identity and self-worth, and she delicately builds camaraderie between Kate and Walker, both grappling with the legacies of demanding fathers, without airbrushing the vast differences that divide them. A disaster occurs, but the human bonds thatlink these appealing characters are frayed, not broken. The author closes with a moving vision of "the struggle to hold lives together, to make shelter and lose it, to hope, to endure."Laken handles the fraught subjects of class, race and family bonds with equal candor and sensitivity in this powerful book. Agent: Dorian Karchmar/William Morris Agency

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060840938
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/26/2010
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
478,893
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Dream House

Chapter One

2005

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?"

"Deal."

"Deal."

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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What People are saying about this

Peter Ho Davies
“A psychologically engrossing novel about the homes we make—in our houses, in our neighborhoods, and in the hearts of our loved ones. Laken takes on that great unspoken American subject—class—and does so with frankness, acuity and surpassing feeling. DREAM HOUSE is a memorable debut novel from a fully mature talent.”
Nicholas Delbanco
“DREAM HOUSE tells the compelling tale of those to whom a roof means more than merely shelter. . . . It’s a complex story—and Valerie Laken tells it with great skill. From first to final page, hers is a beautifully built novel and an astonishing debut.”
Eileen Pollack
“In DREAM HOUSE, Valerie Laken has built for us an elegantly constructed novel with quietly polished yet dazzling lines, and she has peopled it with heartbreakingly convincing characters.”
Charles Baxter
“A perfectly plausible and rational ghost story: sexy, sharp-eyed, and deeply haunted all at once. The past never goes away. It is still there, inside the walls of this wonderful book.”
Nancy Reisman
“DREAM HOUSE is a novel of great reckoning. . . . Laken’s deft, generous, and brave debut will stay with you long after you’ve closed its covers.”

Read More

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