Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lisa Grunwald's The Irresistible Henry House

The Irresistible Henry House
by Lisa Grunwald

(10: 18/50, N: 2/10)

"Did it matter that, over the course of the next few weeks, six different women would sing Henry House six different lullabies? Or hold him in six different favorite positions?"

The entry below will openly analyze Lisa Grunwald's The Irresistible Henry House and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

In mid-century America, an infant orphan is presented to a hard-lined matron named Martha, the instructor of Wilton College's Home Economics Practice House program. The infant, assigned the name Henry House, is the college's new practice baby. The novel follows Henry from infancy to manhood; from the safe post-war forties to the turbulent late sixties, and considers with great clarity the effects of such an unusual beginning. Loaded with a knock-out of a premise, Lisa Grunwald's new novel is a charming, understated accomplishment.

Grunwald's novel is, among a number of things, about the unforeseen consequences of our benign, often well-intentioned actions, and also the difficulty of surviving and forgiving their effects. The practice house upbringing, which was-- factually-- the start for hundreds of mid-century orphans, and the notion of which leaves one aghast today, was considered once a prime foundation for orphan children. Grunwald makes point to outline this notion among others a number of times in her novel. As they say about the road to hell... but how can it be constituted as wrong or evil despite the terrible result?

Even in his youth at the hands of his many mothers, Henry is a creature of mimicry. The product of a fake home, and transitory mothers becomes a child, and then a man incapable of genuine feeling and attachment. It spreads cancer-like into his career ambition. And who is, quite simply, yearning for a true guiding hand.

At its core, Grunwalds novel is simply an argument for a strong, checked, and consistent voice in a child's life. There is an acknowledgement here that mistakes are bound to be made, scarring, terrible mistakes but that seeking forgiveness for inflicting them is all that we can hope do to, and which is, ultimately, the mark of an adult.

Grunwalds novel is not a compulsory read. It's a novel that requires a certain interest and patience to watch come to boil, but ultimately reveals its understated delicacy and heart in its concluding chapter. So I wouldn't call it irresistible, but it's the rare book whose conclusion isn't a redemption but rather a realization. A very good book, warmly if cautiously recommended.

Up Next: E.M. Forster's Howards End

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