A HOUSE IN EARNEST by Terry Farish


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Third adult novel by former YA writer Farish (If the Tiger, 1995, etc.), perhaps her most densely gestated and slowly delivered to the reader.

Virginia Woolf wanted not only a room of her own but her own sentence as well, not a male sentence marching its appointed rounds but a feminine sentence. Farish has taken up the fight by writing whole pages that feed on feminine sentience: the dark crinkling of pregnant nipples and the spruce smell of male skin amid queasy shifts of a woman’s hungers and moods. Here, she tells of fraying ties in a backwoods New Hampshire family and among members of a faded commune over 25 years. She dwells almost entirely on household detail and crossed feelings and much less on story. The characters pull or drift apart and come back together and part again. Christy Mahon returns from Vietnam with a neurosis about trip mines. His wartime duty was to sweep for mines ahead of advancing troops, and one day a close friend sweeping beside him was blown up. Now 29, a homesteader, and a history teacher at Franconia College—a kind of university for social dropouts during and after the war—Christy lives in the woods and still looks for land mines wherever he walks. Deborah Getsinger, 19, meets him on the beach near Portsmouth, falls for him, has sex with him, and follows him into his woods. They marry, part, remarry, part. We live with them through the seasons, canning tomatoes, plastering walls, raising son Ian to adulthood, and through their various friendships and loves, including Sonia, Deborah’s closest friend, and in the love that Sonia’s daughter, Patience, has for Ian. Feelings strained and rebuilt—evoked in engaging dialogue and the smells of apples and rainfall, in the heavy weight of a big Christmas get-together, even in the color in a scarf—form a crunchy humus on which the reader treads from one page to the next.

Many will take to these domestic particulars as to milk and honey.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-883642-52-3
Page count: 263pp
Publisher: Steerforth
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2000


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