Sunday, April 15, 2012

Great House by Nicole Krauss

What is the response when someone tries to erase not only you, but your identity?

I had bailed early on Krauss’s earlier book, The History of Love, thinking it too saccharine, but Great House for some reason I kept checking out of the library, never actually getting around to starting it. But I’m so glad I finally did. Krauss is a beautiful prose stylist. This is the proper way to do the linked short story structure, I think, not some heap of prose huts around a campfire, but interconnected parts that build and rise to a towering insight. And I think the insight is, Keep the faith.

The somewhat flimsy plotting relies on an old desk which moves among generations and continents and characters, touching the lives of four families. Characters either borrow the desk, or give away the desk or pine for the desk. What does it mean to hold something in safekeeping? What are the responsibilities? Is anything ever really yours?

I liked the doubling, the tripling of characters and themes. Three writers, three baby boys. Three people who look disconcertingly like the tortured to death Daniel Varsky. I liked the mystery – why does the book open with a woman confessing to “Your Honor”? Although, in retrospect, perhaps it got a bit too mysterious, as not all the references and hints were neatly wrapped up by the final page.

Most of all I liked the writing.

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