2/20/16 REVIEW OF A HOUSE MADE OF STARS, A NOVEL BY TAWNYSHA GREENE The more fascinating because of the unique narrator—a man’s 10-year-old deaf daughter—is this story of abuse committed by a manic-depressive, unemployed (and probably unemployable) father, himself the child victim of abuse by a deaf mother. The abuse he commits is allowed to continue by his helpless, complicit wife, the mother of their children and a psychological victim of fundamentalist Christianity’s tenet that wives should be submissive to their husbands. The wife’s own mother wants her daughter to bring the children and live in safety and
economic stability with her. But the seemingly daft mother of the children chooses to stay with her husband, which raises the question of how far a woman will go in endangering her children and herself because of love for and attraction to a man. The fact that we don’t see what attracts this woman to her husband, what keeps her clinging to him, works well because we wonder. Is he perhaps the image of Paul Newman or Brad Pitt? Is this woman one who perceives of herself as incapable of ever finding intimacy with another man if she lets go of the husband she has?
We see him at his most likable—which is in his manic fits—as he squanders whatever little money comes to the family (always a gift from his sister) by taking the wife and kids on outings—to a carnival on one—never mind that they have no money for food for the week. At his worst he squanders his sister’s gift money entirely on himself.
I once asked a female colleague why women victims of fundamentalist Islam don’t ban together and walk out on their husbands. “Where would they go?” she replied. “The men control all the money.” While A House Made of Stars definitely presents the impoverished—a class of Americans that the greed-is-gooders like to pretend doesn’t exist—poverty isn’t this wife’s problem, because she has an alternative. Fundamentalist religion is her problem, although however much harm can come from teaching women that God made them inferior to men, swallowing that tenet isn’t, alone, this woman’s problem, either. Which, I believe, is the strength of A House Made of Stars: in it we see, through a child’s eyes, a woman grieving the loss of a husband who isn’t gone yet but should be. Evidently she clings to a fantasy that he can be brought back to life for her as something other than a domestic monster, or, more accurately put, she clings to the fantasy that she won’t have to pull the plug that will remove him and his domestic- monster side from her life. Like anyone’s grief other than our own, we might look at it and say, “I know what she’s going through.” But we don’t know, because we aren’t going through it. We aren’t making the sacrifice, losing the love.
A House Made of Stars presents a complex situation with a seemingly easy answer. But the answer isn’t easy for one of the characters, who finally needs the help of her young daughter, our fascinating narrator.
Author Tawnysha Greene will be our 3/1/16 guest blogger here on Late Last Night Books.