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Bad Houses

Bad Houses back

Sara Ryan & Carla Speed McNeil


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"Though they've just met, AJ and Danica already have some ideas about each other… They're both wrong."

That's a perfect example of the narrative tone and lightness of touch here: it is detached and observational; highly perceptive yet sparse - concise.

The art from FINDER's Carla Speed McNeil is soft and pleasing, an expressive cross between BLOOD BLOKES' Adam Cadwell, and SLEAZE CASTLE's Terry Wiley (I defy you to look Anne in the eyes and not think Terry Wiley; just look at the hair!). The expressions are sweet and subtle, and the sense of space superb - that will prove very important.

Set in a town called Failin (which is indeed… failing), it is a book about self-esteem and relationships, both generational and romantic, and indeed between people and objects: what we hoard, what we covet, what we collect and what we invest in emotionally. We're presented with two central family units - mother Cat and son Lewis; mother Danica and daughter Anne - and other orbiting parties: an effectively swift antiques dealer called Ted and unemployed AJ who feels unable to cope as carer to his elderly mother and is today leaving her with Forest Grove Assisted Living which is where Danica works.

Lewis works for his mother Cat (he would say "with") of Cat's Matchless Estate Sales, and this is where the objects come in. After helping out a friend many years ago, Cat discovered she had a knack for selling the contents of houses after their occupants had died. These are full of objects their owners never sought to relinquish: they were integral parts of their lives, full of history, full of meaning to them. And that can elicit in others many things: prurience, nostalgia or the chance to make a killing. Also, judgement, as in this mug printed with the legend, "World's Best Mom":

"Lewis has seen any number of mugs identical to the one they are contemplating. And always the same hyperbolic phrase, Lewis thinks. Apparently just being a good mom is inadequate. Just once, Lewis would like to see "Mom Who Is Doing Her Best, All Things Considered". People would pay more for a mug like that, he reasons. It'd be unique."

Someone should start a line in those: a lot of mums would empathise!

What this book does so beautiful is, as I say, present us with these individuals… and then gradually reveal surprising sides to them. Surprising sides can come as quite a shock when you think you know everything about your loved one.