Housebreaking / Dan Pope / Simon & Schuster / published May 2015
I received an advanced reader’s copy of Dan Pope’s second novel, Housebreaking, and finally started reading it a week ago. It’s a little hard to categorize this novel for me, other than to say it’s contemporary fiction. There’s a little bit of mystery, but it’s not a crime novel or a mystery novel. There is some romance, but it’s not a bodice-ripper: the sex is more about longing than lust. This is mostly a novel about family and silence, and the terrible consequences of staying hidden from one another. It’s about the evolving shape of relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, the past and the present. It’s about fidelity and infidelity (marital and otherwise), and the weight of grief.
The first part of the book is told from the perspective of Benjamin Mandelbaum, who has moved back into his elderly father’s home after he’s kicked out of his own home by his wife. Soon after moving in, he notices that someone else has also moved onto the street – his high school crush, Audrey Martin. A not-so-chance encounter brings the two of them together and Benjamin discovers something about Audrey’s not-so-distant past that she doesn’t want him to know.
As the story counts down to Thanksgiving, the perspective of the second half of the book varies between Audrey, her husband, and her daughter. We see some of the same events play out again, but the more information we get the more we realize something else is looming, and it all centers around the upcoming holiday. The last act of the novel takes us through Thanksgiving and its aftermath, and the epilogue brings us full circle back to Benjamin.
For a novel in which not a lot “happens,” a lot happens. Relationships form, are broken, are healed, are not. Lives are altered for better and worse and somewhere in between. People try to escape their pain in various ways, none of which works long-term. Characters who make the leap to change are the only ones who have any real peace. We see others beginning to make the same mistakes that got them where they were at the start.
I recommend this novel as one you can read for a while, put down, think about, and come back to. There aren’t a ton of characters, so it’s easy to get back into the story. It’s well written, and I found myself thinking about the characters at odd moments. There was a sense of reality to it that I appreciated: there were no perfect people, no fully bad people, no pat situations or resolutions. There was both hope and resignation, just like life.