House of Sand and Fog
Andre Dubus, III
At the beginning of House of Sand and Fog, a recovering alcoholic named Kathy is evicted from her California home. The Behranis, an Iranian immigrant family, buy the house at auction the next day. Kathy discovers her eviction was due to a clerical error, and launches a legal battle to regain ownership. The Behranis, of course, fight to keep what they now rightfully own. Meanwhile Kathy, recently abandoned by her husband, becomes entangled in a relationship with Lester, a married police officer who was present at her eviction. With each chapter the situation spirals more and more out of control. First, cultural misunderstandings abound: Kathy and Lester are frightened by the Behranis' ties to the Shah's regime, and the Behranis harbor resentment towards privileged, white Americans. Second, every main character makes a mess of their personal relationships through poor communication and allowing their egos to get in the way.
This ominous, tense, and gritty novel reads like a Shakespearean tragedy. While there are many opportunities for the characters to improve their situation, they repeatedly fail to do so. Each character's flaws are glaringly obvious, and none of them are particularly likeable. As the reader, this made me distance myself emotionally from the plot, remaining on the sidelines watching the characters careen towards the inevitable disaster. This book is well-written but I tend to prefer novels where I can be more emotionally committed to the outcome. ( )