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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sadness Ahead

Model Home
Eric Puchner

Scribner, 2010

Warren Ziller moved his wife and three children to Southern California in search of a charmed life, and to all appearances, he found it. But paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even though they live in a gated community in a huge house not far from the beach, Warren is worried about his real estate business, his wife Camille thinks he’s having an affair, and the children have grown distant from each other and their parents. Jonas, the youngest, is largely ignored and dismissed by everyone in the family, which may explain why he’s started dressing all in orange. Lyle, the middle child, decides to lose her virginity to the security gate attendant, but romance only serves to heighten her self-absorption. Dustin, the oldest, has aspirations for UCLA and his rock band, but he finds himself infatuated with his girlfriend’s younger sister and slightly out of kilter with the universe. Life for the Ziller family is moving right along, albeit slightly off track, when tragedy strikes. They are forced to give up the American Dream and move to Warren’s abandoned housing development in the desert. In this bleak lonely place, each member of the family will either work together to forgive each other and solve their problems or become smaller and smaller until one of them disappears forever.

Unfortunately, this story is all too familiar in our current economy. In the past, people who took risks were often successful and celebrated for their risk-taking. Today, risk-takers are not supported in their ventures and often ridiculed for making stupid decisions. Warren’s real estate venture was doomed the minute the city decided to locate a dump next to it; this is pure bad luck and not bad decision-making. The bad decision may have been risking all the family’s savings, including college funds to build the housing development, but still, Warren is not a bad person. Likewise, Camille is not a bad person. She neglects her children and makes some unwise decisions (like her career choice), but she tries to do the right thing. Dustin, Lyle and Jonas are normal children who must live with the mistakes of their parents and each other, which is regrettable but not uncommon or unrealistic. In fact, this family could be any family in the US today – broke, depressed, and simply existing day to day in some sort of zombie-like state, hoping to one day find a little taste of their former successful lives.

The Zillers are a depressing bunch. Their story is sad; their cheaply made house in the middle of a deserted subdivision is sad; the parents’ arguments are sad; the childrens’ hopelessness about their futures are especially sad. I could cry when I think about Jonas, who is blamed for an accident he didn’t cause and is so ostracized by the rest of his family that he wanders alone in the desert wishing someone loved him. Yes, the book is depressing, but that does not mean that you should not read it. On the contrary, this book exemplifies life for many people in our world today: sad. This story will remind readers of all the things they have to be thankful for – our jobs, our houses, our friends, and our families who love each other despite our differences. This story will explain that it could be worse: you could lose everything you thought was important and yet things will still be okay as long as you have your family. It's when you ;ose those you love that you really hit rock bottom.


Rating Justification:
Sometimes a book comes along that affects me very strongly and this is one of those times. You may not react the same way to it, but I still urge you to read it because these characters may touch something inside you, too.

Other books by this author:
Music Through the Floor: Short Stories (2005)

Other titles you may enjoy:

I’ll Go to Bed at Noon by Gerard Woodward (2005)
Colette Jones has had problems of her own with alcohol, but now it seems as though her whole family is in danger of turning to booze. Her oldest son, Janus, has wasted his talents as a concert pianist, and his drinking sprees with his brother-in-law, Bill, a pseudo-Marxist supermarket butcher, have turned violent and landed him in trouble with the police. This is a darkly funny novel about a quirky, troubled family as it lurches from farce to tragedy to pub and back again.

Windfall by James Magnuson (1999)
A Texas university professor finds several million dollars in a basement and takes the money home, keeping the find secret from his wife who would want him to alert police. The novel describes Ben Lindberg's difficulty in spending the money and the impact the secret has on his life, especially the deceit and paranoia it engenders.

The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty (2004)
Meet Smithson "Smithy" Ide, an overweight, friendless, chain-smoking, forty-three-year-old drunk who works as a quality control inspector at a toy action-figure factory in Rhode Island. By all accounts, including Smithy’s own, he’s a loser. But when Smithy’s life of quiet desperation is brutally interrupted by tragedy, he stumbles across his old Raleigh bicycle and impulsively sets off on an epic journey that might give him one last chance to become the person he always wanted to be.

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