Thursday, August 6, 2009

House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III

Oh, the choices we make!

A story of a house that isn't really about the house, but instead about three people from different worlds, all flawed in serious ways. The three become bound together the day one of them, Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon, shows up at the house of Kathy Nicolo, another of the three, to tell her that her house is going to be auctioned off by the county to pay a bill that, in fact, Kathy never owed.

Colonel Behrani, an Iranian immigrant, now a naturalized citizen, reads of the auction in the paper and sees a way to support his family at last, by buying the house and later selling it for much more. Behrani comes from the elite class in Iran, but barely escaped with his life and family when the corrupt leadership of the country (supported by U.S. arms) was overthrown. He carries with him a sense of entitlement and resentment, even as he also regrets his association with the murderers in that regime.

Burdon has a weight to carry as well. Always the victim of bullies in school, he is finally able to get some of his self-respect back (perhaps that is how he sees it) in his present position. At times deeply-seated anger arises, however. He knows not to make his job personal, yet he does, time and again, taking advantage of the opportunity to stick it to the perps who upset him the most.

Kathy is just getting over her husband's desertion. Worn thin by repeated reminders from her family that she just keeps screwing up, she fails to tell them of this latest event.

So Kathy is kicked out of her house suddenly. She has nowhere to go and little money with which to support herself. She connects with the sometimes-volatile Lester and she becomes increasingly angrier with Behrani and his family, taking her resentment out on this apparently rich family who now live in her house.

It's a setup for disaster, frankly, yet early on I suspected there might be a kind of redemption, a growing understanding of each other's ways, a final, good ending. I felt manipulated when I saw this coming. It seemed too easy. I was wrong to see it that way, though. The story takes some zigs and zags that I never saw coming, all the way to the end. It's the kind of story I had to keep reading, even when, at times, it made my stomach hurt.

Falling, by Christopher Pike

Some might call it a "wild ride", for that it certainly is. But that description leaves out interesting details.

This is a tale where even the good guys can't be trusted. We don't know until the end if they will do the right thing or be caught up in their obsessions. For obsession is the name of the game here. Obsession, love, betrayal. One instance after another of betrayal and prevarication.

Matt Connor loves Amy. When she finally rejects him and marries another, Matt's feelings of love and hate merge into an obsession. He wants to get her back - and he wants to get her back. He wants her to hurt as much as he does. He devises a complex, devious plan that has to make you wonder, what kind of guy is he anyway? A good man turned obsessive by a bad woman? Or something else?

Kelly Fienman (her last name is misspelled on the book jacket) is an FBI agent who is also obsessive. She wants to be the one to track down and capture the bad guys. She goes off the reservation. Not once, but again and again. She is hurt badly in an altercation with a criminal, a serial killer who uses acid to kill his victims. IT is a hurt that could have been avoided if she had followed FBI procedures. In the doing, she creates a rift with her husband Tony, and finally Tony asks for a divorce. She feels betrayed and hurt. To what lengths will this hurt take her?

Jerk by dizzy jerk, we are on a carnival ride that threatens to go bad. I rooted for Kelly, but at the same time was disturbed by her ego-driven quests for fame and recognition. I am not a fan of vigilante justice, and I certainly was not a fan of her actions. I didn't so much root for Matt. Even though he seemed fundamentally a good guy his obsessiveness was deeply disturbing. The book is disturbing, clear to the end.