Monday, July 16, 2012

On a broken holiday together

Book: The Red House

Author: Mark Haddon

Published: 2012 (Doubleday)

Pages: 264

A British extended family full of secrets and people who don't especially like each other go on holiday together and oh boy, do things get out.

Like one of the dads is having an affair, one of the teenage girls is gay, the other teenage girl bullied a friend into attempting suicide, one of the mothers is haunted by her stillborn child on that kid's eighteenth birthday, the other dad had a marginal influence in accidentally paralyzing one of his patients, the teenage boy fancies his teenage girl cousin and then her mom. Typical stuff in a family drama.

But it's the little details, like how the dad's affair isn't any better than his regular life and how he's slowly realizing that, and how the teenage girl grows to realize she's gay and how she's been pushing that part of her down because she joined a church and was scared her new friends wouldn't approve, and how the teenage boy's lust jumps so easily from his step-cousin to his step-aunt when the first sharply rejects him, that ties this story together. 

It's sort of the opposite of How It All Began; here, everyone hurtles together from the edges of each other's lives into a holiday labeled "restful" which they all figure is just code for "we have to be bored around each other" and set up defenses accordingly. 

The defenses, of course, don't last the whole week. They're knocked down by each other through impulsive acts and immediately regretted revelations, and while there's not a giant happy hug and singalong at the end (thank fuck for that), whether they want to or not they all understand each other better as people by the time they part. 

Multiple perspectives stay in third-person, which is a relief because especially at the beginning they're a little hard to juggle, and descriptions (of landscapes especially) are staccato. Keeps the emphasis on what's happening in everybody's heads, which is always the most interesting bit.

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