Monday, January 10, 2011

House of Sand and Fog: More Timely Than Ever

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus (F DUB Main; Cassette F DUB Main & Avoca)
Reviewed by Nancy

Fasten your seat belt and get a prescription for anti-depressants. This is going to be a bumpy ride and Betty Davis is nowhere in sight.

This is not a comedy.
This is not a mystery.
This is not a romance.
This is not uplifting.
This book is grim.

So why read The House Of Sand And Fog? Well, it's just so interesting. I read this book a while back, before the crash of the housing market and all its attendant economic misery. To read it now would certainly be "of the moment."

Mr. Dubus provides an educational peek into the unbelievable manner in which human relations can become garbled. You've got Kathy, either indulgently wallowing in her own depression, or so clinically depressed that she needs to be institutionalized. You've got Lester, the policeman, and his misguided and detrimental love for Kathy, and you've got the colonel tripping over his own pride and stubbornness.

All of the individuals in this book suffer from their own character flaws, as we all do, but in this case, character flaws direct destiny and the orbits of these people converge into one big, unpleasant, seething mess.

Depressed over the end of a relationship, Kathy really makes only one mistake, but Wow! It's a big one. It starts when she gets a tax notice regarding her home. The bill is for taxes she doesn't actually owe, and like a responsible citizen she trots down to the tax assessor's office and straightens it out. She leaves that office reassured by the clerk and confident that she has taken care of the problem.

HOWEVER, (hear the sinister music of the soundtrack and see the dark clouds rolling in) the overdue tax notices continue to come in the mail. This is where Kathy makes her mistake. She ignores these notices, thinking that some computer has gotten hung up on sending her letters and can't quit, believing that things are actually straightened out, even though she is receiving the notices.

Imagine her surprise when the police arrive to evict her because her house is going to be auctioned off. Lester, one of the policemen who is there to carry out the eviction, feels sorry for this disheveled, unstrung woman and gets involved.

Despite the fact that it is all just a bad mistake, proceedings proceed and the county puts her house up for auction. This is where the colonel enters the picture. A refugee/immigrant type of person, he uses the last of his savings to purchase Kathy's house at a fantastic price. It provides for him the leg up that he and his family need in order to establish themselves in the United States.

Even after it comes to light that the house should never have been put up for auction in the first place, the colonel refuses to let go of it.

By the end of the book I felt sorry for everyone in it, and also really hacked off with everybody. It didn't have to end the way it did, but, darn, it did.

By the way, if you've seen the movie that was based on this book, you haven't seen anything yet. The movies ended badly, as does the book, but, believe it or not, the book is worse.

So, buckle up, and educate yourself. Also, read those tax notices!

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