House of Gentle Men

( 9 )

Overview

In a year of war, sixteen-year-old Charlotte sets off on a mission of love in the backwoods of Louisiana, only to be violated by three soldiers in a lonely section of the forest. Charlotte's young life is destroyed, but another life is growing inside her. Years later, in peacetime, Charlotte comes to House of Gentle Men, a mysterious sanctuary where sad, damaged women are administered to by haunted men wishing to atone for their past crimes. Here, Charolotte falls in love with one of the Gentle Men, a tormented ...

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Overview

In a year of war, sixteen-year-old Charlotte sets off on a mission of love in the backwoods of Louisiana, only to be violated by three soldiers in a lonely section of the forest. Charlotte's young life is destroyed, but another life is growing inside her. Years later, in peacetime, Charlotte comes to House of Gentle Men, a mysterious sanctuary where sad, damaged women are administered to by haunted men wishing to atone for their past crimes. Here, Charolotte falls in love with one of the Gentle Men, a tormented young soldier with a terrible secret of his own.

An artistic triumph of the highest order, this debut is a transcendent tale of salvation that celebrates the strength of the heart.

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Editorial Reviews

Texas Monthly
...addictive...The adroitness with which Kathy Hepinstall carries off this surreal premise is all the more impressive given that this novel is the Austin author's first.
Gail Godwin
The House of Gentle Men, in everything from its unforgettable title, its original concept, and its simple, elegant momentum, is an astonishing accomplishment. It has the fateful mood of a myth or a tale, but the people are as real as ourselves and I love it that Kathy Hepinstall knows how to make forgiveness as interesting as hopelessness.
Texas Monthly
...addictive...The adroitness with which Kathy Hepinstall carries off this surreal premise is all the more impressive given that the novel is the Austin author's first.
Austin Chronicle
This is a deeply poetic novel, haunting as a fable, and enormously generous of spirit.
Austin American-Statesman
An imaginative tale of secrets, crimes, forgiveness and redemption.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A lyrical tale of sin and redemption with the heart of a fable...beautifully told.
Terry McMillan
Kathy Hepinstall is an amazing new writer who writes with the authority, power, and control of a seasoned novelist. The House Of Gentle Men is a tour de force...
Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey
The House Of Gentle Men is a richly poetic fable that only a woman could tell. At once modern and timeless, it strikes a chord that will resonate in the heart and mind of the reader long after the last page has been turned...and extraordinary debut.
New Orleans Times-Picayune
Fresh and provocative, The House Of Gentle Men shimmers with sensuous prose.
San Antonio Express News
The House Of Gentle Men is an unusual story, dark yet elegant, odd yet endearing, gripping throughout and ultimately life-affirming...will stay with you long after you gently set the book down at its end.
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
Though the characters and the storyline in The House Of Gentle Men are compelling—addictive, even—so, too, is Hepinstall's writing style, especially her imagery.
Hilton Head Island Packet
...haunting and poetic...beautifully written.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
This stunning first novel is not forgettable.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in rural Louisiana during and after WWII, this odd but appealing first novel is a disconcerting yet harmonious mix of realistic characters and place, with a fable-like premise that is initially hard to accept but acquires resonance as the book draws to a redemptive close. The title is literal, referring to a retreat where men who have sinned can stay and do penance by befriending damaged women who come to visit. Dancing, talking, cuddling, every intimate interchange short of intercourse is permitted. The men live in the house; the women arrive in the evening and often spend the night. With this quixotic project, grieving Leon Olen hopes to win back the wife who abandoned him and their two children eight years before. Nearby lives mute-by-choice Charlotte Gravin, a young woman who eight years earlier was raped by three soldiers from a nearby army camp; only two weeks before the rape, her mother died in a fire. Eventually, Charlotte is drawn to the house, as is Justin, who alone of the rapists feels remorse. Charlotte wrestles with guilt, too. Impregnated by one of the rapists, Charlotte carried the baby to term; convinced the infant was a demon, she left him in the woods. The question she faces is whether she can forgive Justin and by so doing forgive herself. Multiple subthemes and motifs-including many references to fire as purifier and destroyer-supplement the central question of the nature of aggression and the possibilities of redemption. Charlotte's brother, Milo, is an arsonist; Louise, Leon's 17-year-old daughter, who cleans compulsively to "sterilize" her environment, has internalized her rage about her family's dynamics. Her brother, Benjamin, in rebellion against his father, tries to seduce the comforted women as they leave the house. Although the coincidences are Dickensian and the notion of a sexual halfway house remains problematic, Hepinstall is deft at developing believable personalities and structuring a moral landscape in which they can find insight to reconnect with their better selves. Agent, Henry Dunow. Author tour. (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Physically damaged, emotionally abused, and love-starved women of all ages come to the House of Gentle Men for tenderness, waltzes, and chaste kisses. The men employed there believe, or choose to believe, that in this way they can redeem their violent pasts. Just after World War II, ex-soldier Justin comes to the house seeking to atone for his part in the gang rape of one of the town's young women in 1941. When Charlotte the Mute (she has not spoken since the day she was attacked) first meets Justin, she is unaware of his role in that crime, which led to a pregnancy and a baby abandoned after birth. As the relationship between Charlotte and Justin slowly develops, he realizes that he must find the courage to tell her who he really is. In an assured first novel that demonstrates promising literary talent, Hepinstall gracefully explores issues of guilt, forgiveness, grace, and redemption. A good choice for all public libraries.--Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380809363
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 706,417
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathy Hepinstall was born in Odessa, Texas, and spent a large part of her childhood two hours from the Louisiana border, where most of her relatives reside. She lives in Austin, Texas. The House of Gentle Men is her first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

From the beginning, the child growing inside her seemed aware of the need for secrecy. It took her monthly flow quietly, swelled her fingers quietly, introduced quietly a craving for mayhaw jelly and Karo syrup straight from the bottle. And the girl- Charlotte-told no one, and no one suspected. For in that fall of 1941, the people of the town could not look at her and see a growing baby. They saw only Charlotte's mother, ambushed by sudden and merciless flames.

The outrageousness of Charlotte's condition furnished more protection. How could a barely kissed Baptist girlnewly sixteen-have conceived anything two weeks after her mother was killed? For in the grief that follows horror there is no room for any Events, only the slow opening of doors and pickle jars, the refusal of a pet to leave the site of a grave, the sudden tears called forward by the sound of Bible passages and the faint aroma of bacon in the black-eyed peas. Tragedy cannot follow so closely on the heels of Tragedy; the Bundt cakes the neighbors bring over must first have time to cool.

Her father and her little brother Milo knew nothing about monthly blood and its co morning sickness. Like men, they were busy basking in their sorrows. In the comer of the backyard, not far from the edge of the woods, Milo built a shrine to his mother: loose buttons he'd found in her drawer, her garden gloves, a set of silver teaspoons, her lavender hand cream and the laces of her Sunday shoes. He worked on it every morning before school, adding little trinkets, straightening the border of magnolia leaves, mumbling to himself, while Charlotte held her long black hair away from her faceand threw up in the pink impatiens.

"Are you sick?" Milo asked.

She shook her head.

"Charlotte, don't be sick. You can it die."

Charlotte had stopped speaking on the day the soldiers had held her down, and so she went inside the house for her tablet and wrote: I'M NOT GOING TO DIE.

"You better not," said Milo when he read her message.

No, she thought, she was not the one whose death was deserved.

She had heard of treatments. Folklore. Things other girls had tried. She found a bottle of apple cider vinegar in the cabinet and drank as much as she could, tears running from her eyes at the taste of it.

It didn't matter. Deep in her womb, that trembling inch continued to flourish.

Salt had worked for a girl in Baton Rouge. So Charlotte had heard one night at a slumber party, years before, when the girls were gathered in her friend Belinda's room. One Saturday morning Charlotte poured a large handful of salt into a glass and forced herself to swallow all of it. She sat on the back porch afterward, looking into the woods.

By noon her head was swimming, and she was seized by a ravenous thirst. Belinda was having a garden party at one o'clock, despite the chill in the air. She had advised Charlotte to attend. "All the girls are turning against you, Charlotte," she had whispered urgently. "They understand about your mother, but they think you're being stupid. You won't say a word and you don't want visitors." Belinda was Charlotte's best friend, but enough of an enemy that Charlotte could not confide in her. And so Charlotte drank three glasses of water and went to the party. The girls were sitting outside on filigreed lawn furniture, sipping strawberry punch. Belinda greeted her in a wool dress, her eyes red. She had been grieving ever since her boyfriend, Richard Stanley, had been called to an air base in Virginia in preparation for the new war.

"My soldier of the sky," she whispered. "Sometimes I wish I'd never fallen in love with him. What if he's killed?"

"Don't think like that, Belinda," the other girls said soothingly. Charlotte started to write something on her tablet, then thought better of it. Instead she drank another glass of punch. And another.

Belinda was telling the story of how she'd met her perfect boyfriend, although everyone had heard it before. She was standing in a green field, in a dress once worn by her grandmother . . .

Charlotte drank another glass.

And the sky was so blue . . .

Charlotte drank another glass. Her head was filled with patterned light. Her breath fast. Thirst like a seizure.

And his plane came out o the clouds as if in a dream . . . of

Charlotte leaped to her feet and staggered behind the house. She was drinking from the hose when Belinda found her.

"Charlotte," she said severely, "what are you doing? Why did you interrupt my story?"

Charlotte didn't answer.

"Listen to me. None of the girls really likes you anymore. You won't talk. You do strange things. And now you're drinking from the hose like a dog. I'm sorry about your mother, Charlotte, but there are other people suffering too. My boyfriend's gone. And he may not come back.

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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
Louisiana, 1941. Young men from all over America crawled through swamps in what has become known as the Louisiana Maneuvers, or the war before the war. In the surrounding towns, teenage girls swooned for the soon-to-be soldiers. At the tender age of 16, Charlotte Gravin was one such girl. And so, only two weeks after witnessing her mother die in a fire accidentally set by her brother, she wanders into the woods to find a soldier to love. She emerges from the forest degraded, defiled by three men, pregnant, and unable to speak. Nine months later, she births a son alone in the forest and abandons him to the wild. Evocative and poetic, The House of Gentle Men is populated by individuals who-like Charlotte-have shouldered more than their fair share of tragedy and, in its aftermath, are paralyzed by pain. There's Milo, Charlotte's brother, still seething with anger years after his adolescent pyromania resulted in his mother's death. We meet siblings Louise and Benjamin. Louise is a compulsive cleaner, and Benjamin callously exploits fragile women for his own sexual satisfaction. Both are furiously trying to fill the space left first by their mother, who physically abandoned them, and then by their father, Mr. Olen, who is emotionally unavailable. And there is Justin, a young man racked by the guilt of a terrible moral transgression in his past. Each of these individuals-defined by their separate suffering-will find their fates strangely intertwined. All are on a path to redemption that will lead them to a mysterious house deep in the Louisiana woods, The House of Gentle Men. Questions for Discussion
  • Would you describe thetone of the novel as "fablelike"? If not, how would you describe it? If so, what narrative techniques were used to accomplish this? Was it effective?
  • The House of Gentle Men is rich with symbolism. Discuss the use of symbolism in the novel and cite examples.
  • Do you think that the women and men in the novel were too clearly depicted as being either victims or victimizers? Why or why not?
  • Sexual intercourse is not allowed in The House of Gentle Men. Are there any positive portrayals of sexual relationships? Why or why not?
  • Do you think that all sins are deserving of forgiveness? Were you surprised that Charlotte forgave Justin? Did you want her to? Did you empathize with Justin?
  • Mr. Olen founded the House of Gentle Men in order to atone for the sin of neglecting his wife. In light of this fact, why is his relationship with his daughter and son ironic?
  • Compare and contrast Milo and Charlotte's relationship with Louise and Benjamin's relationship. How did these siblings help each other to heal?
  • Were you surprised by the way the novel ended? Do you think that Justin, Charlotte, Daniel and Milo survived? Would it have been possible for them to lead a normal life together?
    About the Author: Kathy Hepinstall was born in Odessa, Texas, and spent a large part of her childhood two hours from the Louisiana border, where most of her relatives reside. She lives in Austin, Texas. The House of Gentle Men is her first novel.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Touching And Thought Provoking

    The story in this book is beautiful and you'll get on a roller coaster of emotions as you read it. You wont forget this one once you've finished it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2003

    Beautiful

    This book was so beautiful I loved the characters especially Charlotte. The love story was also so sad. Great sybolism and lyerical story telling. The only part I didn't enjoy was the fact that you really don't know what happens in the end, your kind of left thinking..'But what happend?' But still this has become one of my favorite novels.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2002

    Great book!!

    Read the book in one day--simply could not put it down. The characters were tragically funny. The only bad thing about this book is that it came to an end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2002

    superb!

    This book is great! I was really hooked to it that I finished it in 5 hours!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2000

    An amazing literary work

    What an amazing book! The brief storyline offered above piqued my interest but in no way prepared me for the depth of feelings and emotions I would experience when I met Charlotte and later, Justin. Having lived through a harrowing experience in her rape, Charlotte makes a very difficult decision to give birth to and abandon her baby. Years later, alone and lonely, she makes her way to the house of Gentle Men to befriend Justin, a man trying to atone for his sins of the past. The theme of the book is atoning for one's sins and forgiveness - Charlotte must not only forgive the soldier who took away her innocence, but she must also forgive herself for abandoning her baby. Through the house of Gentle Men, Charlotte and Justin aren't the only characters who seek and attain forgiveness - you'll have to read the book to learn more! For a first book, this is an excellent start and I hope to find more by Hepinstall very soon! Highly recommended and I will pass it on to everyone I know.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2000

    'House'--a mesmerizing read!

    Sixteen-year-old Charlotte Gravin is summarily raped by three young soldier recruits on training in 1941 in western Louisiana. This outrageous act causes her to become mute. She is also pregnant from this violation. Two weeks earlier, her mother had died in a fire, accidentally caused by her younger brother, and her father has taken to heavy drinking. And when the child is born, she abandons him after two days, leaving him on a tree stump. Charlotte seems to have the tribulations of the world on her shoulders. With ¿The House of Gentle Men,¿ author Kathy Hepinstall creates a novel that at once is disturbing, violent, complex. It is a story that deals with the suffering for the sin and the possible redemption thereafter and she does it in a convincing literary style that draws high praise. The pivotal point of the book is the actual house of the gentle men, a place where men service women in a gentle and genteel fashion, women who have been beaten, battered, abused, violated--in short, unhappy women who feel they cannot go on, their courage and stamina have been eroded almost completely. The men, all who have come to the House because of their own sins and demons work out their own redemptions and part of the bargain is that they work here to help others. They all have their own secrets, and as one characters says, ¿You see, this is as place of redemption. All redemption begins with a secret spilled.¿ This is not a house of sexual prostitution (intercourse is forbidden here). Enter, some eight years later, Justin, whose own guilt (he was one of the three soldiers who raped Charlotte) has grown beyond measure, seeks the House for his own salvation. His is such a distraught state that on the first night there, he attempts suicide. Ironically, that night is the first time that Charlotte has decided to seek help, and she requests Justin, not knowing who he is. Theirs is a relationship that blossoms steadily, until the inevitable revelation. This path of redemption through suffering is a long one and the author has long arms when it comes to her characters--disturbing, desperate, and even lovable as they are. They are memorable, with their scars, their handicaps, their infirmities. Labeled a ¿first novel,¿ ¿The House of Gentle Men¿ is an excellent introduction to a writer that deserves the critical praise. It¿s not an easy book to read, but the rewards are great.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2000

    A perfect debut

    Kathy Hepinstall's The House of Gentle Men is a perfect debut. Told in deceptively unassuming language, this novel of loss, guilt and redemption touches the heart and satisfies the discerning reader's hunger for a beautiful story. The House of Gentle Men sits tucked back in the Louisiana woods, safe from prying eyes. The proprietor, a man trying to win back the wife who left him and his lack of attention, employs men damaged by their pasts to give the women who come under cover of night the affection missing in their lives. Charlotte is a local girl who comes to the house looking to assuage her grief and guilt over her mother's death, her own rape, and the loss of her child. Justin is an ex-soldier hoping to atone for his own unpunished sins by attending to this damaged woman. The revelations of their twinned shames will tear them apart, but it is forgiveness and love that will bring them both back to wholeness. The House of Gentle Men resonates with fear and hope. The lesser characters are as compelling and pained in their own ways as Charlotte and Justin. Richly atmospheric for all its simplicity, this book is a gorgeous, absolutely readable first novel that will leave its readers fulfilled, and desperately hoping that Kathy Hepinstall will do something as wonderful as this again soon.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2000

    very special drama

    1941 is the year that destroyed the teenager named Charlotte. First her mother died in a fire. Then three soldiers raped her. From that brutal day, Charlotte has not spoken one word since the attack. Charlotte abandons the baby born from that day of infamy........ Nine years later, Charlotte still suffers from battle fatigue from the abusive attack. She lives near THE HOUSE OF GENTLE MEN, a place where males can seek solace for the sins they have committed. Damaged women visit the despondent men every evening, but though they cuddle and dance together, intercourse remains unacceptable. The still mute Charlotte finds herself attracted to this house of male penitence. There she meets a remorseful Justin seeking to be forgiven for his participation in the raping of Charlotte nine years ago. As Charlotte and Justin begin to fall in love, he knows he must risk all he cherishes to tell his beloved the truth if they are to have a full and trusting relationship....... THE HOUSE OF GENTLE MEN is an intriguing tale that centers on remorse and redemption. The story line includes other vignettes besides the main one, but these blend back into the prime story line. The characters are interesting and fully developed as they struggle with guilt and pray for deliverance. If readers can accept the rules of the male retreat, they will enjoy a treat of a novel that is fresh and different, and will insist that Kathy Hepinstall provide more tales from this Louisiana house that is not a rising sun....... Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2000

    Entertaining relationship tale

    1941 is the year that destroyed the teenager named Charlotte. First her mother died in a fire. Then three soldiers raped her. From that brutal day, Charlotte has not spoken one word since the attack. Charlotte abandons the baby born from that day of infamy. <P>Nine years later, Charlotte still suffers from battle fatigue from the abusive attack. She lives near THE HOUSE OF GENTLE MEN, a place where males can seek solace for the sins they have committed. Damaged women visit the despondent men every evening, but though they cuddle and dance together, intercourse remains unacceptable. The still mute Charlotte finds herself attracted to this house of male penitence. There she meets a remorseful Justin seeking to be forgiven for his participation in the raping of Charlotte nine years ago. As Charlotte and Justin begin to fall in love, he knows he must risk all he cherishes to tell his beloved the truth if they are to have a full and trusting relationship. <P>THE HOUSE OF GENTLE MEN is an intriguing tale that centers on remorse and redemption. The story line includes other vignettes besides the main one, but these blend back into the prime story line. The characters are interesting and fully developed as they struggle with guilt and pray for deliverance. If readers can accept the rules of the male retreat, they will enjoy a treat of a novel that is fresh and different, and will insist that Kathy Hepinstall provide more tales from this Louisiana house that is not a rising sun. <P>Harriet Klausner

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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