What makes a house a home? Is it the picket fence and the flowering trees? The gleaming floors? The paint, the curtains, the book shelves? The pencil marks in the doorway where you measured your children year after year?
In House and Home by Kathleen McCleary, Ellen Flannagan loves her house. She and her husband, the sexy, irresponsible Sam, have been married 17 years and settled in Portland after a few years of moving around. They are raising their daughters in a beautiful yellow Cape Cod that Ellen has lovingly decorated and furnished. Her best friend lives next door and their daughters are best friends too.
Sam is an inventor and Ellen owns a shop in Portland where she sells coffee and antique furniture. The couple take out a 2nd mortgage on the house to fund Sam’s latest invention in a string of unsuccessful ventures, requiring them to dip into their savings and even the girls’ college fund to pay the bills, but soon they get behind and Ellen determines that the only practical solution is for them to sell the house. She and Sam separate, not because they don’t love each other, but because Ellen realizes she “can’t do this anymore”. Her daughters are devastated about the break up, but Ellen isn’t allowing herself to think about the impending divorce very much as she is so focused on the loss of the house, projecting all her fears about her marriage onto that.
The sale to the somewhat obnoxious Jordan Boyce and her husband Jeffrey is finalized, and Ellen regrets it almost immediately. Ellen rents her house back from the new owners for a month while waiting to move into her new place, so she is living in her house but it is no longer hers. Her love of the house crosses over to obsession and desperation when she decides that if she can’t live in the house, no one should.
As I mentioned in this post, there are a lot of parallels between this book and my life. I identified with the main character Ellen on a number of levels. Like Ellen, I’m in my 40s and from Southern Michigan originally, and moved around a bit before landing on the west coast. I’ve been married many years and have two young girls. Also like Ellen, I’m married to a charming and irresponsible entreprenuer who has put our financial security at risk on more than one occasion with one of his big ideas. I too love my house. This is the house I brought my babies home to. This is the house we are raising them in. This is also the place that nurtured me as I licked my wounds after losing a much-wanted baby boy in my 5th month of pregnancy, another parallel to Ellen.
It’s hard to imagine another family here, in my house, hanging their Christmas stockings over OUR fireplace, carving their Thanksgiving turkeys in OUR kitchen, or parking their cars in OUR garage. I know which stair creaks and how to avoid it if I want to quietly sneak up the stairs. I know which closet door sticks, and which one routinely falls off the track if you open it too quickly. I love the kitchen, I love the windows, oh! And I also love my wonderful neighbors. If my husband and I divorced and we were forced to sell I would be upset, but this book made me think about what makes a house a home. This is my home, but what would it be without the chaos, warmth and love of my family? Empty. Just a house. This book is about Ellen finally figuring that out.
I would highly recommend House and Home, which is due out July 1st. Book clubs will find much to discuss. I received this ARC through the publisher, Hyperion.
Kathleen McCleary is a reporter and writer for HGTV. This is her debut novel. You can visit her website HERE.
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