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.

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