Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review: Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo

If you haven't heard of spite houses before, go look them up because they are fascinating. If you have heard of them, you're probably intrigued by them like I am. The stories behind these houses are wild and so very, very human. They tell of neighbors who hate each other or families who cannot get along. They are a giant middle finger, revenge for something unforgivable. One such house is the thing that functions exactly opposite the way that it might have, bringing cousins together, helping them work through the crises in their lives that are weighing them down, and helping them find happy, productive futures.

The Memphis house that Lizzie lived in until she was eight, before her mother married her stepfather, is a spite house. Several years after her grandmother's death, she and her mother could lose the house to condemnation if they don't restore the derelict building and bring it up to code but her mother's out of the country on a mission trip so it's up to Lizzie. Lizzie doesn't want to upend her life to save it, especially given her contentious relationship with her mother, but since she's recovering from a horrible knee injury, one that could cost her her dream of Olympic gold and a her professional soccer career, she agrees to check things out. Once back in Memphis, faced with the overwhelming task, she makes the decision to rescue the house, determined to save it from demolition by the city. She is joined by her two step-cousins, Elyse and Isobel, who are each facing growing pains of their own. Elyse was blindsided when her sister and her childhood best friend, who she's been in love with forever, announced their engagement and Isobel, a former child star, cannot capture the fame and celebrity she craves as an adult. So all three women are on the precipice (almost literally, given the house's location) of change, whether they want it or not.

Spite House is both three stories tall and literally a house of three stories, those of Lizzie, Elyse, and Isobel. Each woman's story is told in turn in the three sections of the novel. The house holds secrets and answers but it is only the backdrop to the renovation, reinvention, and restoration the characters must do in their own lives; it's a project to keep them moving forward and to help them embrace their futures, significantly changed from what they once envisioned. Lizzie is the strongest of the characters and the mystery of her father's identity is another big plot line here. Given the structure of the novel, Lizzie's story, followed by Elyse's story, and finally by Isobel's story, Santo has done a good job keeping all of the stories going, one in the foreground with two in the background at any given moment. The resolutions to everything might be a little bit easy but over all, this was a satisfying, readable family drama.

1 comment:

  1. I’m going to investigate spite houses. Great review, thanks for sharing your thoughts


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