Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Release Spotlight: House Rules

House Rules, by Rachel Sontag

“The things we loved about Dad were the things we could predict.” In one simple sentence, Rachel Sontag captures the root of House Rules, a striking memoir about living in family dysfunction.

Family dysfunction is a black cloud that always threatens a torrential storm. It’s hard to live with, it’s hard to read about, and it’s hard to write about. Yet, Rachel Sontag writes about the dark topic in a way that entices readers to take House Rules along for a Sunday afternoon in the park.

On the surface, Rachel’s family seems normal—Mom, Dad, two kids, nice house, sunny family vacations. But Rachel’s father makes their family far from normal. He’s controlling, obsessively. Curfew must be met, no matter if it’s by bussing, walking, or hitchhiking. He’s paranoid, believing his dying mother is upset because Rachel slandered him to her and that his wife wants to divorce him because Rachel brainwashed her. To keep his wife from believing their presumably evil daughter, he puts her on so much Lithium she moves through the world as if a zombie.

As Rachel attempts to cope, she finds herself hating her mother’s lack of control more than her father’s obsession with it. “Mom’s disinterest in questioning uncomfortable territory was the single most frightening quality I could see in a woman.” Rachel becomes rebellious, challenging the arbitrary rules that bind her and searching for attention, any kind of attention, that will give her an escape.

Peppered with profound statements of emotional clarity, House Rules articulates what few people can say but most feel. “It’s never loneliness that nibbles away at a person’s insides,” she says, “but not having room inside themselves to be comfortably alone.” Readers are caught in downpours of the desire to be loved and the desperation to get away, until Rachel breaks free at last. “At some point something shifts and you stop wanting what’s missing and start wanting the things you create for yourself.”

House Rules addresses family dysfunction without the bullets points and worksheets of a self-help book. It tells a story. For readers who can relate personally, the knowledge that others experience the same challenges and are able to surpass them is comforting. And readers whose lives are in no way like Rachel’s see a harsh but genuine description of life—painful, joyful, and often impossible to explain. House Rules is a moment of clear sky in the midst of our personal storms.

Review by Ali McCart, Indigo Editing, LLC

ISBN-13: 978-0-06-134122-9
Publisher: Ecco
Pub Date: April 2008
Hardcover: $24.95

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