Saturday, December 31, 2011

House of Sand and Fog book review

My rating = 3 stars

Hello again everyone. I am finally back from my Christmas hiatus, and I have some great things coming this next week, so stick around! This review completes December's challenge for Read Your Own Library. This month I chose House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III. It has been on my shelf for several years, and I never wanted to get rid of it before reading it because the premise of the story always sounded so compelling.

House of Sand and Fog tells the tragic story of a woman who was wrongly evicted from her home, then fights with the new owner to reclaim the house. Kathy Nicolo-Lazaro is a recovering drug addict, whose husband recently walked out on her. One morning she wakes up to find the police on her doorstep, evicting her from her home by county order. The home is sold at auction the following day. An Iranian exile, Colonel Behrani, uses the last of his savings to buy the house, hoping to secure a better life for his family. As the Behrani family settles in, Kathy is befriended by Lester Burdon, the deputy who evicted her, and a fiery love affair begins between them. Lester is soon drawn in to Kathy's legal plight and they both take drastic measures to get Kathy's house back.

One short review I read said this book really tugs on your emotions and sympathies. And in some ways it did for me, but I only had sympathy for the Behrani family. I was a bit stunned to realize this as I read, because Kathy is the one who is homeless and fighting to get her house back. But the further I read, the more I could not relate to this woman and could not agree with the choices she, and in turn Lester, made. To make it cut and dry, Col. Behrani owned the home legally once the county sold it to him. He was fully protected by state law. Kathy's only legal recourse was to sue the county for the full value of the home and get her money back. But, of course, that's not how the story plays out.

Kathy is very, very, very bad at handling her emotions. She can only deal with them by using beer, drugs, or sex. Otherwise, she's explosively volatile. Hence, every decision she makes about how to deal with this problem is fueled by unstable emotion. At one point she tries to justify herself and say "I just watched all this happen. It's not my fault." She is so used to playing the victim all her life, that she is incapable of making one reasonable, responsible decision. I hate people like that!

Lester is also a vulnerable character. Once he and Kathy hook up, he suddenly decides to up and leave his wife and kids behind, and eventually, his sanity as well. They both act irrationally and irresponsibly throughout the book, and this bad mix ends up costing the Behranis pain and sadness, and ultimately their lives.

(Speaking of hooking up - I have to warn you that this book has a lot of sex. A lot. Kathy and Lester are either having sex, thinking about sex, or dreaming about sex. And some of it really made me want to gag. They also use a lot of f-bombs and other crude language.)

The second half of the book focuses a bit more on the ethics of the situation, and poses the question "What is truly, ethically, the right thing for Col. Behrani to do?" Legally, he is innocent of his actions to keep claim on the house, but ethically, should he give Kathy the house back? (This question is the basis behind a law in my own state that says if you buy a home from the county, city, etc., you do not own it free and clear for 6 months. This gives the previous owner time to pursue legal recourse, if in fact they have unlawfully been deprived of their home.) So I kept asking myself this question as I read, but I could not untangle my antipathy towards Kathy and Lester from the ethics of the problem, so I couldn't find a good answer.

Bottom line — this book is very thought provoking, and the writing style is superb. Thumbs up. The characters of Kathy and Lester are pathetic, unrelateable, and a bit offensive. BIG thumbs down.

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