Monday, May 6, 2013

"The Clover House"

Henriette Lazaridis Power is a first-generation Greek-American who has degrees in English literature from Middlebury College; Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar; and the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Harvard for ten years, serving as an academic dean for four of those. She is the founding editor of The Drum, a literary magazine publishing exclusively in audio form. A competitive rower, Power trains regularly on the Charles River in Boston.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Clover House, and reported the following:
The entirety of page 69 from The Clover House:
glass ceiling of the atrium should be and see a panel of white-painted wood with a light fixture hanging from it. Two of its three bulbs have burned out.

“Got a three-story ladder?” the man asks with a laugh. “The landlord won’t bother until that third bulb goes.”

“That used to be glass,” I say.

“Used to be a lot of things, young lady.”

And this is why my mother never tried to take me inside. If anyone had waved to her as we stood before the house all those summers, she would have ignored the signal, all the better to preserve in her memory what would always be the most important version of the house. I take a few steps into the foyer, toward the tall oak door that must have led to the front sitting room. Boots and umbrellas lean against the corner by the door. A peephole has been drilled through the oak and covered over with scratched plastic.

I know the man is watching me with amusement as I spin around slowly, taking in the handful of things about the house that I assume have not changed. There is a wide expanse of wall where the walnut mirror once stood--I am sure of it--and the swinging door Irini, the cook, would push through coming in from the kitchen, and the railing around the landing on the third floor, where my aunts and Nestor dangled their baskets and hooks. Yes, it is changed now, but the space is still the same, redolent of everything I have ever imagined in it.

“When did you lose the house?” the man asks.

“We didn’t lose it,” I say, turning to face him. But I don’t know that this is true. Perhaps we lost it in the Second World War, or in the civil war that came after it, or during the junta. No one has ever explained this to me.

“Well, when was the last time your family lived here?”

“Sometime after the war.”
It turns out that this page does present some of the key issues in the novel through a scene in which the protagonist, Callie Brown, visits her family’s former home in Patras, Greece, and asks to be let inside to look around. The house is a grand, neo-classical structure once occupied by her mother’s well-to-do family, but it has passed out of the family’s possession at some point--sometime after the war, as Callie says. Callie has long been bewildered by the mystery of what happened to the family--their wealth, their social standing--but more importantly by the bitterness and sadness that cloud her mother’s life and that seem to have something to do with the loss of the house. This little scene introduces the idea that, to paraphrase the man, things used to be different and that loss is an essential part of existence. Unlike her mother, Callie has no memory to lay over the reality before her. She has come there to recapture something of what her family has lost--by reimagining it, or by discovering it.
Learn more about the book and author at Henriette Lazaridis Power's website and blog.

Writers Read: Henriette Lazaridis Power.

--Marshal Zeringue