Thursday, January 10, 2013

Julie's Review: The History of Us

Summary: Sometimes home is the hardest place to go. In the newest novel by the celebrated author of The Myth of You and Me (which Claire Messud called “poignant, fierce, and compelling”), three grown siblings return to their childhood home and face a family secret that forces them to reexamine their relationships to each other—and to the aunt who took them in as children. Eloise Hempel is on her way to teach a class at Harvard when she receives a devastating phone call. Her sister and her husband have been killed in a tragic accident, and Eloise must return home to Cincinnati to take their three children, Theodora, Josh, and Claire, out of the hands of her own incapable mother. She moves back into her mother’s century-old house and, after her mother leaves, pours her own money into its upkeep. Nearly two decades later, Eloise is still in that house with now-grown Theo, Josh, and Claire, still thinking about the career and life she left behind, even as she pushes the kids to get a move on. With Claire leaving for New York City for a promising ballet career, Eloise has plans to finally sell the house and start a life that’s hers alone. But when her mother creates a competition for which of them gets the house and Claire turns out to have a life-changing secret, their makeshift family begins to fall apart. The History of Us is a heartrending story of loss, sibling relationships, and the life you make in the path not taken.

Review: Years ago I read Leah Stewart's other novel The Myth of You and Me and I enjoyed it but I wasn't in love with it. The History of Us is in the same category but I enjoyed the characters much more in this novel. A fast-paced novel this is not. At times I did find myself wanting it to come to an climax a lot sooner than the author wanted us to get it. That's not saying that when she did give the reader the climax it didn't pack a punch because it did; I was just impatient.

The History of Us is a character driven novel about an unconventional family that is now dealing with some of the decisions that were made 17 years prior. Eloise is a make shift mother for the one that died in a tragic accident. She gave up the life she planned for herself to come home and raise her sister's children. Eloise keeps her feelings/emotions close to herself. She prefers to be practical and logical. She's never thought that she could have her own life because of the kids who needed her. Now that they are grown and should be leaving the nest, she wants to sell the family house and move on. She didn't know how much her oldest niece wanted the house as well. Not only does she want the house but she's emotionally attached to it.

Theo, the oldest niece, thinks that it is her right to want that house. She wants to stay in Cincinnati and she loves the history of the house. She's not understanding that her aunt has poured all her money into that house and needs to sell it to be out from under financial stress. Theo thinks that since she's been the good girl and always followed directions that the house should be hers. What she doesn't plan on is that her brother and sister might want it to.

Josh, is the middle child and gave up a promising career as a musician for a girl. He's now stuck in Cincinnati in a job that he isn't passionate about trying to get along with everyone while trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. It isn't until he meets Adelaide that he starts to be able to write music again and perhaps figure out what he wants to do.

Claire, the youngest and the most lost. A promising ballerina who gives it up for a man twice her age who she thinks she's in love with. Now, this was the hook of the book, the thing that makes the family go bonkers. I understand that it's a huge deal but I was really expecting something a little more dark. Maybe it's ok that it wasn't that way in the end. In the end, this is something that Claire can survive and come back from, perhaps even get her career back.

All four of them are struggling with how they fit into the family and what exactly their roles are now that the kids are grown. Eloise struggles with her relationship and if she really wants to continue with her job as head of the history department.

Theo harbors feelings towards Eloise that have never been expressed until a moment when Theo is so lost that she lashes out at her about everything.

What I thoroughly liked about the novel is that these are problems that most families, not even those with unique situations, are dealing with or could deal with. How many parents have their 20-somethings living with them right now? Either out of necessity or because they just can't seem to go out on their own. How many people give up their dreams because of relationships? How many of those people regret that decision?

It is a very real book, even if it took a little longer for me to get to the climax. I enjoyed that in the end, as a reader, I felt good about where the characters were going even if it wasn't tied up in a neat bow. You know because life isn't tied up in bows.

I will definitely be reading more Leah Stewart in the future and will probably checking out Husband and Wife in the nearish future.

 Final Take: 3.75/5

Thanks to Touchstone for an early copy of the novel to review.



Anonymous ,  January 16, 2013 at 9:03 PM  

I read Husband and Wife (and had the chance to meet Stewart at a book talk) and hope to read the rest of her books. I have Myth of You on my shelf already!

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