THE HOUSE OF GENTLE MEN by Kathy Hepinstall

THE HOUSE OF GENTLE MEN

KIRKUS REVIEW

Hepinstall can write lovely lyrical prose, but her first novel bludgeons the reader with obvious imagery to enforce her disturbing, misguided message that every woman is a victim and every redeemable man is a recovering victimizer. In 1941, Charlotte Gravin, a 16-year-old virgin, is raped by three soldiers training for WWII in her rural Louisiana community. The horror of the event, coming only weeks after her mother has burned to death in a fire set accidently by Charlotte’s younger brother, leaves the girl a mute, unwilling and then unable to speak. She is also pregnant. After delivering her baby alone, Charlotte abandons him on a tree stump in the forest not far from The House of Gentle Men, a bordello in reverse, where unhappy women come to be serviced: —kissed and waltzed against, whispered, touched with just the fingertips.— Penetration is not allowed, the overly conspicuous implication being that intercourse is always a male act of violation. The employees work for voluntary tips and to expiate their former sins, all of which are recorded in the owner’s locked file cabinet. Found by the owner’s young daughter, Charlotte’s son remains in the house hidden from the outside world, a child with angelic looks and special powers to solace women. When a soldier arrives eight years later full of guilt and in great spiritual pain, we know immediately who he is—the third, most hesitant of Charlotte’s rapists. He and Charlotte meet, and the inevitable falling in love occurs, followed by the equally inevitable uncovering of guilt and then redemption. Meanwhile, the fablelike story is weighted down by the heavy-handed use of symbols like fire, bare feet, and cleanliness, as well as Hepinstall’s tendency to explain her themes. Poetic but slightly creepy and overwritten.

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 2000
ISBN: 0-380-97809-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2000




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