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Meet the Zillers – Warren, Camille, and their three kids – living the life in a Southern Californian gated community, the picture-perfect American family. Or so it seems. There’s Jonas, the youngest, who dresses entirely in orange and is oblivious to the endless trial of humiliation his behavior invites; Dustin, the smart and popular oldest, who’s lucky in love but takes it for granted until it’s too late; and Lyle, the sister in the middle, socially inept, painfully shy, and oddly anemic-looking against the West Coast canvas of tanned starlets and blue skies.
Married for 17 years, Warren is in real estate and Camille makes educational videos with titles like “Conception is FUNdamental.” They’re bright, busy, and determined, yet beneath all the bonhomie lurks a more troubling scenario. When Warren’s real-estate venture goes bust, the car, furniture, and home are all snatched away, and the Zillers are forced to own up to some painful truths. An affair, a tragic accident, and a runaway boy add to their growing estrangement. As they try to recapture what they thought was family intimacy, they only succeed in causing one another more pain.
In Model Home, Eric Bogosian’s acid tongue meets the social commentary of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Franzen set the bar high, but Puchner clears it with ease. With his first novel, he has penned a comic masterpiece of a family’s implosion that’s troubling, touching, and darkly hilarious.
Eric Puchner cannily trades on the very characteristics that have come to define a recognizable California "experience" in order to blast them apart, revealing the uncertainty and terror beneath the glossy postcard version we cling to and dismiss…Puchner is a tender, humane observer of family life, and his lithe prose deepens our understanding of his characters.
The New York Times
The Ziller family is utterly believable here. Little Jonas, the kid whom nobody loves, is the perfect example. It's left absolutely up in the air what's to become of himor his brother, or sister or parents. Sure, if you work hard and don't screw up, you could succeed, except for the fact that everyone screws up mightily sometime. It's actually a miracle that any one of us stays alive from breakfast to lunch. There's a terrible shame involved if you fail in America. But that shame is universal. It clings to us like an invisible, sticky veil. That's what this estimable book is about.
The Washington Post
Puchner’s heartrending first novel (after the collection Music Through the Floor) traces the gradual ruin of a family in the 1980s. By the time Warren Ziller’s car is repossessed—he tells the family it was stolen and tries to keep the family’s money woes a secret—he realizes he made a mistake in hauling his family from the Midwest to Southern California to get rich quick on real estate. Warren’s wife, Camille, suspects her husband’s squirrelly behaviour indicates he’s having an affair; 11-year-old son Jonas has developed strange obsessions; 16-year-old daughter Lyle is miserable and misanthropic; and college-bound son Dustin is a handsome surfer with punk rock dreams. The unhappy family’s annual camping trip inspires Warren to confess their dire financial straits, earning a momentary reprieve cut short by a natural gas explosion at their house that horribly burns Dustin. The Zillers move to one of Warren’s depressing model homes and nearly fall apart until a new crisis involving Jonas creates a tenuous unity. With careful attention to nuanced and fractured perspectives, Puchner teases a fragile beauty out of the loneliness that separates the members of this family. (Feb.)
Warren Ziller has bankrupted himself and his family in an unsuccessful real estate development in the California desert. When he confesses what he has done, his perfect nuclear family spirals out of control. A gas explosion at their own home forces the Zillers to live in one of the development's unsold houses, and family relations deteriorate until Jonas, the youngest son, runs away. His disappearance and eventual safe return jolts the family back to reality, allowing them to move on. VERDICT Pushcart Prize winner Puchner, a finalist for NYPL's Young Lions Award for his story collection, Music Through the Floor, mixes humor, pathos, tragedy, love, and the struggle for meaning in the convoluted folds of his first novel. Readers will feel the angst of teenage love, the frustration of plans gone wrong, and the heartbreak of the human condition. For anyone who likes fine writing on contemporary domestic crises.—Joanna M. Burkhardt, Ashaway, RI
Family love flickers capriciously throughout this fine domestic drama, which runs the gamut from hilarious to harrowing. Developer Warren Ziller's first big mistake was to uproot his family from their happy Wisconsin home and move them to a too-expensive house in a lush Los Angeles suburb. He's been told he can make a killing in California real estate, so he rushes to build in the desert without knowing about a planned sludge dump-his second big mistake. In the summer of 1985, facing bankruptcy, he hasn't sold a single property. His sweetly virtuous wife Camille makes educational videos; handsome oldest son Dustin surfs and leads a punk band; daughter Lyle is smart and misanthropic; 11-year-old Jonas is strange and lonely. All of them are oblivious to their impending doom as they perform "the slow, jokey, unrehearsed vaudeville of being a Ziller." Vaudeville is right: There are many laugh-out-loud moments, among them a particularly hilarious scene in which Lyle, drunk on tequila, serves some outraged customers at an ice-cream parlor. More serious developments include Lyle gleefully losing her virginity to the Mexican gatekeeper on their estate and Dustin having bravado sex with the disturbed sister of his less seducible girlfriend. Everything changes at the midpoint, when a gas explosion destroys their home and Dustin is badly burned. Family solidarity reigns supreme during the Zillers' two-month vigil at the hospital, but it's a different story when, with painful irony, they find themselves living next to the sludge dump. Another crisis erupts when Jonas runs away, but even in these dark times, humor keeps bubbling up. The inventive author maintains a swirl of action while encouraging usto ponder some fundamentals. What holds a family together: memories, rituals, crises? And how do parents guard against favoring one child over another?A wild first novel that amply confirms the promise of Puchner's story collection, Music Through the Floor (2005).
“The only conclusion to come to after reading this novel is that Eric Puchner is a massive talent…Each character is perfectly drawn and deeply interesting. Go read this book.” McSweeney’s
“Puchner’s well-constructed tale of a house of pain built on a foundation of secrets echoes Updike and Easton Ellis.” People magazine, 4 stars
“Puchner is an extraordinarily talented writer... a master of mood and tone, able to make moments of pure hilarity follow heartbreak with the seamlessness of real life.”