Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Number 4

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus II has some obvious similarities to East Garrison: its title, the book's cover, and the narrative's repeated mention of fog. Other than that, it is NOT about the American Dream gone bad, as is the basic plot summary of House of Sand and Fog. Dubus's novel spoke to me on many levels through its stark prose and unwavering portrayal of reality. But what influenced me most were the setting and one of the main characters, Kathy Nicolo, a self-destructive alcoholic who cleans houses for her meager living.

I not only read Dubus's novel, I've lived it. I put myself through many years of college by cleaning people's houses. And I know too well the devastation alcoholism brings having been raised by two alcoholics and done my share of the same. I've lived most my life in the East Bay Area and now on the Central Coast. Mist and fog are as familiar to me as are snowstorms and ice to people who live in the Midwest. Fog is a great mood setter. Fort Ord's climate is misty and cloudy 99 percent of the time. It's precisely for that reason that the land made a terrific Army base. Cloaked in its own microclimate, it's difficult to detect what's going on just behind that layer of dense, wet air.

Dubus's novel mounts tragedy upon tragedy until the tension is almost unbearable. A series of mistakes (similar to the Donner story) take on monumental meaning as the narrative moves the characters into a final position against a wall from which they cannot escape. House of Sand and Fog's inevitable conclusion is painfully dark, but honest—both traits that I admire in writing. This is not a novel for everyone, but what book is?

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