Saturday, March 7, 2009

"Dream House"

Valerie Laken's work has appeared in Ploughshares, the Chicago Tribune, Michigan Quarterly Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review, the Antioch Review, and Meridian. Her honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, two Hopwood Awards, and an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, where she teaches creative writing.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dream House--which was inspired by her own experience buying and remodeling a home in which a murder had occurred--and reported the following:
Dream House is the story of a young couple whose marriage unravels when they discover that the fixer-upper they've just bought was once the site of a murder. The book interweaves their story with the story of the man who committed the murder and, recently released from prison, begins lurking around the house.

Page 69 depicts the last night Kate and Stuart spend in their rickety little apartment before moving into the house. They are still naive at this point; they have no idea what problems lie ahead. But they are both struggling already with a nagging awareness that their marriage is on the rocks. Kate believes buying the house will solve their problems; Stuart has a bad feeling about the place and knows that changing their address won't fix what's broken between them. He agrees to buy the house anyway because "he liked what she was believing. He wanted to believe it too."

...Stuart and his friends moved boxes and furniture from one place to the other in a borrowed truck, and [Kate] stayed up late cleaning the old apartment so they could get back their security deposit in full. He came home after two in the morning, a little drunk, his T-shirt torn and misshapen with sweat. "Mission accomplished," he said, then staggered toward their all-but-empty bedroom for one last night.

Kate stayed in the kitchen, wiping out cabinets and washing the floors, and collecting their last forgotten items in a big box by the door. By 3:30 the place was clean, but she was wired on NoDoz and couldn't imagine sleeping. [...] She crawled out on the porch roof and sat watching a few remaining college kids stumble home from their bars and parties and thought, This is it. I'm graduating.

One thing that's happening at this stage of the book is that Kate and Stuart are sort of avoiding each other, especially in the bedroom. The book focuses on what this particular house means to each different character, but also on the complex role that any home plays in a family. Some people take better care of their homes than of the people inside them, and even people who don't go that far still face moments when either by choice or necessity they give more time or effort to their house or housekeeping than to their loved ones. Having a good-looking, well-kept house can give the impression that all is right with the family inside it, which can be very reassuring, and very deceptive.
Read an excerpt from Dream House, and learn more about the book and author at Valerie Laken's website and at the book's Facebook page.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue