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House Arrest

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Overview

Mary Morris, called "a marvelous storyteller" by The Chicago Tribune, returns with the finest novel in her acclaimed career—a vividly etched, engrossing story of a nation, two remarkable women, and the meaning of freedom.

Taut with tension, filled with the telling observations of place and local character that grow out of her expertise as a travel writer, House Arrest is Mary Morris's richest, most powerful novel to date.

...
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House Arrest

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Overview

Mary Morris, called "a marvelous storyteller" by The Chicago Tribune, returns with the finest novel in her acclaimed career—a vividly etched, engrossing story of a nation, two remarkable women, and the meaning of freedom.

Taut with tension, filled with the telling observations of place and local character that grow out of her expertise as a travel writer, House Arrest is Mary Morris's richest, most powerful novel to date.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A small Caribbean island whose people are starved for food and freedom is the setting for Morris's fourth novel (after A Mother's Love). Like Morris, who is also a travel writer (Nothing to Declare), protagonist Maggie Conover writes for a travel magazine. She has returned to la isla to update a guidebook she wrote two years earlier. It's a bad idea: during her previous visit, she secretly gave her passport to Isabel Caldern, the outspokenly disenchanted daughter of the dictator, El Caballo, so that Isabel could flee the island in disguise. Maggie's navet in returning to this totalitarian state is compounded by her behavior after she's arrested and detained in a seedy hotel. Slow to discern the danger of her position, she never contacts the embassy or a lawyer, in spite of her interrogation by a greasy government functionary, and other frightening incidents. Were this the only improbability, the reader might overlook Maggie's passivity, especially since Morris does provide some motivation for her flaky behavior. But it's hard to accept that Isabel, her mother and her daughter each achieve instant emotional intimacy with Maggie, immediately pouring out the stories of their lives in dangerously candid detail. These long, lyric confessions provoke echoes of Isabel Allende, but they lack her magic resonance. In the end, it is not Maggie's story but the claustrophobic atmosphere of a country locked in a dictator's iron grip that the reader will find unforgettable. (May)
Library Journal
Novelist (A Mother's Love, LJ 2/15/93) and travel writer (Nothing To Declare, Atlantic Monthly, 1992) Morris brings both interests together in this new novel. Maggie Conover's latest assignment for "the aging-hippie travel guide service" for which she works is in a Communist country in the Caribbean known as "la isla." On a return visit, she is detained at immigration and subsequently awaits deportation while under house arrest at a tourist hotel. With lots of free time on her hands, Maggie becomes retrospective, remembering her love for her husband and young daughter, yet her need to get away from them on these working excursions; her conflicting feelings about her employer and ecotourism; and, most especially, a woman named Isabel she met on her last visit to la isla whom she knows to be the source of her current troubles. Maggie's hopes and fears, as well as those of Isabel, estranged daughter of the island's revolutionary leader, are intimately revealed, allowing us to feel the isolation and desperation that both women experience. Recommended for women's studies and popular collections.-Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati Technical Coll.
Richard Stern
Complex mixtures of recollection and immediacy, rich shifts of movement, brilliant bits of descriptive and psychological insight, and, above all, the slow revelation of the narrator's character. -- The Chicago Tribune
Laurie Stone
Although Morris's fictional alter ego, Maggie Conover, relives her own history of family entrapment, it is the nation's subjugation under a dictator which she chronicles most sharply. -- The Village Voice
Alan Cheuse
A passionately told account of confinement at a number of levels set against a luscious natural backdrop…a poignant creation.
—(Alan Cheuse, National Public Radio's All Things Considered)
Kirkus Reviews
An American travel writer is forcibly detained on a Soviet- linked Caribbean island in this fourth novel from Morris—a murky, claustrophobic work that fails to penetrate the depths of the author's previous fiction (most recently, A Mother's Love, 1993).

Thirty-six-year-old Maggie Conover's life in Brooklyn is pleasant enough, sturdily constructed around an architect husband and a five-year-old daughter. Still, even after ten years of roaming the world updating a series of travel guides, Maggie's natural restlessness prods her to pack her bags every few months for another trek into the unknown. This time, her trip turns ominous when she's detained at customs upon arrival on an unnamed island. Implying that her detention has to do with the disappearance of Isabel, a local woman whom Maggie befriended on a previous visit, the island officials place the American under house arrest at the pleasant Hotel España. There, with nothing to do, Maggie has time to reflect on her brief relationship with the missing Isabel, only daughter of the country's despotic leader, nicknamed El Caballo. Fascinated by Isabel's reputation for defying her father, identifying with her desperate desire to flee the closed, poverty-ridden island, and physically attracted by the woman's beauty and grace, sensible Maggie did in fact uncharacteristically risk her own safety by agreeing to "lose" her passport and plane ticket so that Isabel could use them to escape. Maggie's act then can be chalked up to infatuation, but her return now is more difficult to understand. In any case, once she has had leisure to relive her quasi-erotic experience, she's abruptly released—to go back to her family a grateful and perhaps wiser woman.

Flat descriptions of dusty roads and crumbling villas alternate with the purple prose of Isabel's dramatic life story, giving the reader a sharp sense of place and character but little else of substance. Not this masterful author's best work.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312155476
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Morris is also the author of the novels The Night Sky, (available from Picador), Crossroads, and The Waiting Room; two travel memoirs, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone and Wall to Wall: From Beijing to Berlin by Rail; and the award-winning story collections Vanishing Animals and Other Stories and The Bus of Dreams. Her new story collection is The Lifeguard. Mary Morris teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and daughter.

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Reading Group Guide

House Arrest is the harrowing novel about Maggie Conover, a travel writer in a Caribbean island nation, who is placed under house arrest in her hotel after befriending the missing daughter of the nation's revolutionary leader. As Maggie is interrogated, bullied, and brought to a fever pitch of anxiety, she recalls her new friend's courage, her own troubled past, her longing for home, her daughter and family. Based on Mary Morris's own experience in Cuba, House Arrest is a story of both personal and political intrigue, as well as the meanings of freedom and its loss.

Discussion Questions:
1. How would you describe Maggie's house arrest? Is it just political, or does it operate on another level? If so, how?

2. Morris was actually arrested in Cuba so there is an autobiographical component to this book. Where do you think the truth ends and the story begins? What clues do you have that this is the case?

3. Why do you think Morris chose to deal with this material in a novel rather than as a work of nonfiction?

4. In telling these multilayered stories of women Morris use monologues. What function do these serve?

5. La isla is based on Cuba, yet Morris never calls it Cuba. How is or isn't la isla Cuba, and why do you think Morris chose not to name it?

6. Maggie is taking a definite risk in helping Isabel. Why does she take such a risk?

7. What do the different voices contribute to how we read this story? How do they help us interpret la isla?

About the Author:
Morris began writing when she was a graduate student at Columbia. "I wrote one [short story] and sent it to Redbook. They bought it and paid me a phenomenal amount of money. I wrote another and they paid me more money. I thought, this is great, I'm going to make a living as a short story writer. Then for 10 years I didn't sell another story commercially . . . I was just about to give up when I got an NEA grant."

Mary Morris is also the author of the novels Acts of God, The Night Sky, (both available from Picador USA), Crossroads, and The Waiting Room; two travel memoirs, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone and Wall to Wall: From Beijing to Berlin by Rail; and the award-winning story collections Vanishing Animals and Other Stories and The Bus of Dreams. Her new story collection is The Lifeguard. Mary Morris teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and daughter.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2013

    Silver

    Walks in

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2013

    INFO

    Pays 1,000 bucks must be comortable in handcuffs

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2012

    Grace

    Hah! *falls down laughing* Those are little kids, Tyler!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

    Katie

    Okay

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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