Sunday, August 26, 2012

The American worst-case scenario

Book: House of Sand and Fog

Author: Andre Dubus III

Published: 1999 (Vintage)

Pages: 365

This one was intense.

So imagine that you’re an Iranian immigrant, someone who was really rich and important when you fled your country’s rebel fighters and someone working three menial jobs at a time to keep up appearances in America. You happen to see a good house for sale super-cheap by the county and on a very impulsive, possibly stupid whim, you buy it to move you and your family into until you can find a buyer who will pay retail for the whole shebang. It’s a giant risk, but if it works (and it will work, it just has to work, you can feel it almost as bone-deep as the weariness from your road work day job as it sinks into your gas station night shift), it will save your family’s fortune, spirits, and reputation all in one pile of cash, until the former owner starts harassing you about her house she didn’t give you any sort of permission to buy.

Got that? Okay.

Now imagine you’re a junkie just getting your life back together in your dad’s old house. After he died and willed it to you and your brother, your brother let you use it because hell, it’s not like he needed a whole frickin’ house, and the whole family’s worried enough about you to give you a second chance. You’ve slowly gotten settled into a routine that’s building your new life around stuff that actually matters and doesn’t kill you, when suddenly the county seizes the house for unpaid taxes addressed to your recently ex-husband. You fight with what little resources you have, including a pro bono attorney who gets more and more difficult to contact the more she learns about the case and a sheriff you seduce at first for reasons so practical you won’t even admit them to yourself. Later you really do fall in love, but by then it’s too late and there’s nothing anyone can do without the new owner’s permission.

So you’ve got these two people in your head. They hate each other, they clash violently with each other, and they doom each other into a Gorgian knot that tightens past bureaucratic annoyance to vendentta all the way to personal understanding that breaks your heart because it’s too late. They’ve cut the knot down the middle, each taking their own great hack, and everything falls apart.

Details like the Iranian’s excellent but formal construction of English and the flashbacks that revealed just enough at a time to drive the recovering junkie’s motivation only where it was needed kept the voices unique while drawing parallels to the growing helplessness on both sides.

I wanted the sheriff to have sections from his own perspective because he gave up his entire family life to help the recovering junkie, and you really only got whatever he told her, which was not much. Bare-bones enough, though, and maybe the author didn’t want to stray off the plot, but the sheriff’s unraveling marriage did play a pretty big part in the action.

Wait until you’re fairly emotionally stable to read the end. I went from cringing at the horrible things humans are capable of doing to each other to gaping at the sacrifice some are willing to give to atone for those horrible things even though nothing will erase them.

No comments:

Post a Comment