HOUSEBROKEN by Yael Hedaya


Three Novellas
by & translated by
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First English-language translation for a popular Israeli columnist and journalist.

It’s depressing to discover that all the tedious mannerisms of “hip” contemporary American fiction have made their way across the ocean, but that’s the revelation offered here. This collection of three novellas reads like a compendium of literary brat-pack clichés: the oh-so-clever juxtaposition of a dog’s life and the crash-and-burn relationship of its master and mistress in the title story, the cute but aimless parallel of a 30-something’s affair and her 70-year-old parents’ sudden and seemingly unmotivated divorce in “The Happiness Game,” and the rapid shifting points-of-view in “Matti,” which Hedaya uses to tell the story of a man’s love for an adolescent girl, recalled by his wife, the girl, and his doctor as he lies dying of a brain tumor. All three tales suggest the impossibility of happiness in the chill of modern urban life, the disconnectedness and atomization that lead to repeated failed relationships, the jockeying for mastery that is a poor substitute for real feeling. The problem is that the writing is as devoid of such feeling as the people it depicts. Each of the stories is predicated on the methodical recounting of the details of daily life, and there is plenty of such detail, but no texture. Hedaya’s willfully lifeless prose reads like catalogue copy for a hardware store rather than literary fiction. The fault clearly lies with the writing and not the translation, which is expert in its rendering of the book’s cold, detached tone.

Although there are sparks of genuine wit in “The Happiness Game,” mostly at the expense of the parents and some of them randomly cruel, there isn’t much else that’s happening here.

Pub Date: June 5th, 2001
ISBN: 0-8050-5998-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2001


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