Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On "A House Made of Stars" by Tawnysha Greene ****

Tawnysha Greene's been publishing little pieces of this novel in various journals for the last few years; amazingly, most seemed self-contained, enough that I hadn't realized they were part of a larger work. Now, they're all gathered in this, her debut novel--and what a novel it is.

I'm reminded a bit of Dorothy Allison's Bastard out of Carolina. This book covers some of the same ground in terms of presenting a poor "white trash" girlhood, but I liked this book a whole lot more than I remember liking that one. I think there's a certain innocence that Greene captures that Allison, for me, did not and perhaps wasn't trying to.

The main character grows up in a family in which deafness runs. As such, each member of the family knows sign language. But that deafness extends to more than just literalness; it extends to a kind of will to not hear, as the mother continues to try to maintain her relationship with her abusive and free-spending husband, the father to her three children.

Each chapter is a small snapshot, usually not more than a few pages. Father enters, takes the family off to an amusement, spends all the cash on hand, gets angry, beats up the kids, leaves--or forces the family to flee to somewhere safer for a while. It's a repeating pattern.

Often, the family (with or without dad) rooms with members of the extended family--the dad's sister, the mom's mom. And in these spaces, the narrator finds solace and joy, a short respite from the violence and threat of it. Just as the narrator finds solace in the night sky, where stories can happen and where a house can be built of light.

The story becomes something of a chase toward the end, with the narrator leaving clues as to where she can be found, and I found myself growing more and more arrested and wanting to read on.

Greene's book is one of great intensity. The book can be purchased here.

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