Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Model Home

Model Home by Eric Puchner
Scribner 2010
Hardcover, 360 pages
ISBN-13: 9780743270489

Warren Ziller moved his family to California in search of a charmed life and to all appearances, he found it: a gated community not far from the beach, amid the affluent splendor of Southern California in the 80s.But his American dream has been rudely interrupted.  Despite their affection for each other—the “slow, jokey, unrehearsed vaudeville” they share at home—Warren, his wife Camille, and their three children have veered into separate lives, as distant as satellites.  Worst of all, Warren has squandered the family’s money on a failing real estate venture.
When tragedy strikes, the Zillers are forced to move to one of the houses in Warren’s abandoned development in the middle of the desert. Marooned in a less-than-model home, each must reckon with what’s led them there and who’s to blame—and whether they can summon the forgiveness needed to hold them together.  Subtly ambitious, brimming with the humor and unpredictability of life, Model Home delivers penetrating insights into the American family and into the imperfect ways we try to connect, from a writer “uncannily in tune with the heartbreak and absurdity of domestic life” (Los Angeles Times).
My Thoughts:

Model Home is Eric Puchner's debut novel about a family dealing with failure. A failed real estate venture sends Warren Ziller's family into an economic down turn, but, truthfully, the family was already disjointed and spiraling out of control and away from any connection with each other before their American dream became a nightmare. Model Home  opens in the summer of 1985, right after Warren's car has been repossessed, but before his family knows the truth about he family's financial condition.
Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character, mainly Ziller family members. This includes Warren, Camille (his wife), Lyle (daughter), Dustin and Jonas (sons). Even while their illusions of happiness slip away from them, the reader will realize that the Zillers were never happy to begin with. The novel is alternately  depressing, and heartbreaking. There are funny moments, but they are few and far between. And the depressing addition of the diminished capacity of the family's dog was more than I could take
Puchner is certainly a talented writer whose ability elevated this tale about a dysfunctional family above the norm, however, in the end I didn't feel like Model Home  broke any new ground. The characters felt stereotypical, flat, and emotionally stunted. The good news is that this was a debut novel, which makes Puchner a writer to watch.
highly recommended for the writing, but be forewarned that it is a depressing story

Two days after his car—an ’85 Chrysler LeBaron with leather seats and all-power accessories—vanished from the driveway, Warren Ziller crept past the expensive homes of his neighbors, trying to match his dog’s limp. opening

A guilty hush came over the table. In the silence, Warren had a chance to take in the spectacle of his children: Dustin, his college-bound son, shirtless as usual and eating an Egg McMuffin he must have picked up on the way home from surfing, preparing for another deafening day of band practice in the garage; Lyle, his redheaded, misanthropic daughter, sixteen years old and wearing a T-shirt with DEATH TO SANDWICHES stenciled on the front, her latest protest against corporate advertising; Jonas, eleven and haunted by death . . . what could he say about Jonas? Every morning he poured granola in his bowl and then spent five minutes picking out all the raisins and dates, only to sprinkle them back on top. He liked to know where they were so “they wouldn’t surprise him.” Today he was wearing an orange windbreaker over a matching orange shirt. Warren felt something brush his heart, a draft of despair. He glanced under the table: orange corduroys, and—glaring conspicuously above Jonas’s Top-Siders—coral-colored socks.  pg. 4-5

“Maybe it’s the same guy who stole the Chrysler,” Dustin said. “I doubt it. Car thieves don’t generally abduct people.” Warren said this without batting an eye. There were surfboards leaning undisturbed in all their neighbors’ yards, yet Warren’s family had believed him when he’d said the Chrysler was stolen. It dismayed him, how easy it had been. A fake call to the police, a trip downtown to file a report. (The truth was he’d spent the afternoon at the office.) He’d smoothed any wrinkles of doubt by telling them there were bands of crooks who specialized in gated communities, knowing that people left their keys in the car. “Sitting ducks,” he’d called the families of Herradura Estates.

In truth, Warren had been in denial about the Chrysler. He’d hoped—despite the fact that he hadn’t made a payment in six months, had ignored the bill collector’s increasingly terse and belligerent notices—that the lender might just forget the whole business. Instead the men had come at night, while Warren was asleep. He’d gone out to the driveway with Mr. Leonard and found a dark drool of oil where his car had been. And the stain was only a herald of things to come. There was the furniture, the new Maytag washer, the house itself. 

Dustin finished his breakfast, licking some grease that had run down his wrist. It was such a boyish gesture, so casually innocent, that the taste of fear eased back down Warren’s throat. He would protect this innocence at all costs. If that meant lying to his family until he found a way out of this mess, so be it. pg. 5-6

She was a Midwesterner in the way Blackbeard was a pirate: iconic to the species.  pg. 7

1 comment:

Care said...

add 'tragic', and 'despairing'...I think I like this much more now than I did while reading it.
Great quotes you pulled.