“As she drove off, she acknowledged yet again how tiresome the ritual was: her doing whatever task was required; his lavishing her with praise; his saying he didn’t deserve her (or couldn’t function without her). She, according to script, would agree. But if it was irritating, it was effortless, like the redundant avowals of ordinary love passed back and forth between spouses. She knew she would never leave this job, because at some point it had simply become a life, and who would opt to leave a life?”
Tomasina “Tommy” Daulair has found herself in an awkward, unpredictable place. After a lifetime of service as the everything-assistant to famed children’s book author Mort Lear, Tommy inherits Lear’s estate, along with his tangled bequests and wishes, when Lear dies unexpectedly. Tommy and Mort’s relationship was hard to define and almost universally underestimated; what others saw as an assistant/employer alliance was truly more like a sexless marriage, a deep, symbiotic partnership.
“When had she crossed that line, from being the big sister of his favorite model, the boy whose doppelgänger put him on the literary map, and then his indispensable helper, his fifth limb (maid, cook, driver, party escort, website warden, proxy on difficult phone calls, repository of names), to finding herself so inescapably devoted to the man the porcupine as well as the genius, the hermit as well as — something surprisingly new, perhaps even to him — the starstruck fan?”
Settling Mort Lear’s estate, Tommy revisits her past struggles and frustrations, revises her impression of Mort, and ponders, as a middle-aged woman, what to do when she grows up.
In “A House Among the Trees” Julia Glass explores themes which have served her well in the past – extraordinary relationships, loyalty, fame, and grief. Like in her National Book Award-winning “Three Junes”, Glass uses unexpected pairings and tragedy to develop beautiful intergenerational, international, and intersexual relationships. This book, like others I’ve read by Glass, lives and breathes relationships; her writing is intimate and personal, elevating character over plot at every turn. Her characters are devoted to Art with a capital A – in this case drawing, painting, writing, and acting – and they are charming introverts, alluring bookworms, sexy nerds. Glass’s newest novel, while not as impactful and memorable as “Three Junes”, is entertaining, endearing, and, though full of hurt and heartache, surprisingly light. A perfect summer read.
“‘There’s a kind of comfort to watching the world burn inside a book. A book, like a furnace, can be closed, the fire contained.'”
Thank you to Pantheon, an imprint of Penguin Random House, for providing a complimentary Advanced Reader’s Copy in exchange for a fair and honest review. “A House Among the Trees” was published in the U.S. on June 13, 2017.