24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
After reading the reviews, all of which emphasized the traumatic doom and gloom of the plot, I expected this book to be both depressing and hopelessly melodramatic. I almost didn't read it, never expecting to become as caught up in it as I was. The four main characters were so appealing--so vulnerable with their obvious personal flaws--that I couldn't help but root for them to "make it." At the same time, it was impossible not to recognize also that they simply did not have the self-awareness to do so.
The characters and their motivations are believable, their mistakes understandable, and their miscommunications plausible--for most of the novel, that is. As other readers have pointed out, the conclusion is "movie-like," with a grand finale that ties up all the loose ends. I did not find it incongruous, however. The sense of inexorability resulting from the increasingly more serious miscommunications of the characters seems to demand a "showdown." The sense of impending doom is almost palpable and needs resolution.
Anyone interested in the craft of writing would find it fascinating, I think, to study how the author takes four relatively "normal" characters through a series of seemingly innocuous events which, in combination, lead to total disaster. Well deserving of its National Book Award Finalist medal, in my opinion.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2001
I've long been skeptical of Oprah's Book Club. I bear no grudge against Oprah herself, but I honestly assumed that any book she had in her Book Club would be substandard pulp fiction. I'm prepared to admit that I was wrong.
House Of Sand and Fog is that rare novel which inspires awe from the reader for its technical skill whilst also managing to create a human story. House Of Sand and Fog is intricately plotted and beautifully written, but also manages a story which moves without ever being manipulative.
Try to read the book with as little plot information as possible - this is one read that could be easily spoiled by knowing too much, not due to any surprised ending, merely because you won't enjoy the tension nearly so much knowing the outcome. Just the basics: A woman's house is wrongly repossessed by the council and auctioned cheaply to a new owner. The two then try to resolve the situation but both come to the table with the view that they have done nothing wrong.
Dubus is to be congratulated on the skill with which he renders the two main characters and their sides of the story. Sympathy lies equally between the two, making the reader's journey all the more enjoyable. At times it is hard to believe that the two predominant voices of the novel were written by a single author - so rich and original is the prose of each.
Don't let the stamp of Oprah prejudice your view of the novel. Accept - like I have - that she is a woman of excellent taste and enjoy a worthwhile read.
C. James Brown
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2000
Andre DuBus has created one of the most engrossing and riveting stories of the year. To say that the last 100 pages, in particular, will have you glued to this book is an understatement.
The chapters alternate between the voice of Colonel Behrani, an Iranian ousted with the Shah's regime, and Kathy Nicolo, a drug addict who has been desserted by her husband. The reader is torn between the two who each have compelling reasons to claim ownership of the bungalow which the story centers around.
In Col. Behrani, we see the hardship of building a new life in a strange country. He has fallen from the highest ranks in his native Iran to picking up garbage on the side of the road in California. Kathy Nicolo, on the other hand, has left her sheltering family and seems to be at a loss to take control of her life. If she'd only opened her mail from the County, this whole bizarre episode could have been avoided. She is sympathetic in the first part of the book, but makes very poor choices which lead to the ultimate tragedy. There is also Lester, the epitome of the bad cop hungry for power. When he leaves his wife and children for Kathy, we can say that this is truly a match made in hell. They are co-dependents clinging to each other and bringing down the world with them.
The failure to work out the ownership of the house leads to senseless tragedy after tragedy. The ending, however, had no uplifting message. There was no ephiphany whereby our hero or heroine could rise from the ashes like a phoenix. We as readers are left with only a compounding of the tragedy which left me feeling the characters devastation and hopelessness. If I could change one thing about this book, I would have some good come from this horrible chain of events. As far as I could see, there was none.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2000
"House of Sand and Fog," by Andre Dubus III (author of "The Cagekeeper and Other Stories" and "Bluesman"), is a compelling novel. Divided into two parts, "House" is a complex, disturbing, and thought-provoking tragedy.
Dubus's brilliance at characterization shines through this bleak and believable story. He climbs inside his characters' heads to give readers a chance to feel what it is like to be a recovering addict (Kathy Nicolo); what it is like to be first and second generation immigrants in pursuit of the "American Dream" (the Behrani family); what it is like to be an ordinary man (Lester Burdon).
"House" is flawed; it is not perfectly written or edited. But one can forgive these imperfections because of the powerful emotions that Dubus can generate in his readers through his storytelling. "House" is not a tragedy of Greek proportion; there is no chorus of readers which will respond in uniformity to the protagonists' or antagonists' moral claims. Rather, "House" reminds one of a Kafkaesque travesty: a minor clerical error which compounds itself into misfortune, mayhem, and murderous revenge.
Dubus employs an experimental style of narration, with his deliberate shifting of points of view. This narrative device manipulates the reader's response to the characters, thereby creating, in the reader's mind a frustration of not being able to "solve" the moral dilemma. (Tim O'Brien uses a similar technique in his short novel, "In the Lake of the Woods.")
I especially recommend this book to readers who like to weigh and measure their responses; to writers of fiction who wish to learn about characterization; to book discussion groups. Further, I recommend that you explore the writings of this writer's father, the late Andre Dubus, especially "Meditations from a Movable Chair" and "Dancing After Hours."
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2001
As a writer, I was fascinated with the dual first-person point of view. It took me about 2 or 3 chapters to get into the rhythm, but then it flowed musically. The characterizations of Kathy and Behrani were so different, that I wonder how difficult it must have been to get inside each of their heads to write so convincingly? The story was not uplifting. Was it engaging? Absolutely. Did it make me want to know more? Definitely. Did I feel "good" when I finished the book? No, but satisfied, my appetite sated for good writing, and a story well-told. If you're looking for light entertainment, this is not the book for you. It is deep, thought provoking, and causes internal conflict. I could feel sympathy for any of the main characters at any time. I think culturally, it was well depicted. I would recommend this book to anyone who admires talent, hard work, and is also willing to be an active, rather than a passive, participant in the adventure of reading.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2001
House of Sand and Fog is a wonderfully written book, poetic and starkly realistic at the same time. I could feel the strong ties that both protagonists (Kathy Nicolo and Massoud Behrani) had for the piece of property that was being fought over. A "back cover review" claims that the reader will feel empathy for both sides, but I must say I sided with the Behrani's. I do not think it was incidental to the plot that the author made the present owners of the house immigrants. Both Kathy and the frustrated cop Lester have prejudices, which works against a reasonable resolution to the story. It's a sadly accurate picture of our society today.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2000
This book was extremely well written. It shows how people can get tangled up in situations where they can feel no way to escape. These characters were desperate and reached into their instinctive ways to settle issues that were hopeless to them. This author deserves praise for the portrayal of individuals so different and how tangled a web life can lead. Not up lifting, but definitely well written. I want to read more of Mr. Dubus' books. Palmeda Day
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2000
Dubus has created such completely drawn characters that I feel as if I could recognize them in a crowd. This is very well written and interestingly put together. It's not just like watching a train wreck -- it's like being in one and watching it slowly unfold around you. By the time you get to the climax it's so intense and so inevitable you just can't get off that train for anything. But for a while I wasn't sure where he was taking us. We could clearly see how each person thought he was doing the right thing until the first stepped over the line. This very visual story will probably end up being a movie -- and a good one, at that.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I confess that once I started *House of Sand and Fog* it was hard to put it down. Author Dubus is a skilled and promising novelist, and he does a fine job of conveying the neediness, desperation, and self-destructiveness of all three of his main characters. In weaving this tale of desire, greed, lust, anger, and overarching self-absorption, he succeeds in conveying some of the more wretched aspects of the human condition. People who are looking for books with cheerful, uplifting themes had best look elsewhere.
The key to both the book's merits and its weaknesses lies in the literary device Dubus uses to tell his story. He narrates the story through first-person accounts by the Iranian ex-colonel Massoud Amir Behrani and the troubled young alcoholic Kathy Nicolo, who emerge as rivals for the ownership of a bungalow home in "Corona," a town which for all appearances is a pseudonym for the city of Pacifica, located along Highway One south of San Francisco. Curiously, Dubos accounts for the perspective of his third main character, deputy sheriff Lester Burdon, through third-person narration.
By fleshing out his story through the respective perceptions and motivations of each main character (sometimes going through the same events from each different perspectives, in "Rashomon" fashion), Dubos succeeds in drawing in the reader and in building suspense as the story approaches a climax which is predictably dramatic (although the particulars of how things end up is certainly not predictable).
Where this storytelling approach fails is in Dubos' apparent inability to create a believable "voice" for his troubled female protagonist, Kathy Nicolo. Whereas we are given every impression that Nicolo is a pathetic, relatively uneducated woman with an addictive personality who perceives life through a hazy veil of bad memories, poor decisions, and low self-esteem, as a narrator she speaks with astonishing articulateness, employing a self-aware discursive style more characteristic of someone who is college-educated or better. In other words, what we are being led to believe about the content of Nicolo's perceptions and experiences does not correlate well with the writing style in which this narration is presented. Had Dubos presented Kathy in a voice more appropriate to her actual character, it would have made for a more compelling and powerful story.
Meanwhile, Dubos' presentation of Colonel Behrani is more successful, right down to the slightly formal, "in translation" nature of his use of verb phrases (e.g.,"She gave to me the book.")
Overall, this book is hardly pulp fiction, but neither is it great literature. It's an engrossing and mostly fascinating, entertaining read that conveys some real insights into the foibles of the human personality. *House of Sand and Fog* shows how great and terrible tragedy can ensue despite people's misguided perceptions that they have proceeded on the basis of righteousness and good intentions.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2001
House of Sand and Fog is an intriguing novel. Although the plot starts out slowly, the action and tension gradually builds up and culminates in a collision of characters. The story begins by describing the struggles of Colonel Behrani, Kathy Nicolo,and Les Burdon. Behrani is an Iranian immigrant who has fled from his country and his wealthy lifestyle. He has trouble adjusting to living simply, and without the prestige that he is accustomed to. Behrani also has a pride problem, and will risk anything to return his family to their former respectable position in society. Nicolo is an ex-drug addict who is dealing with her husband's desertion. To further her problem, she gets kicked out of her house for failing to pay the bills. Sheriff Burdon falls in love with Kathy and sets out to help her get her house back. At the same time, he is dealing with the dilemna that he is a married man with two kids, and falling in love with someone else. All three individuals become spun into a complex web of problems surrounding their desires for a small bungalow set in the hills of California.
I found the novel to be very enjoyable. The author draws the reader into each character's situation, and one can't help but feel compassion towards them. The acute description paints a very vivid picture, especially of the Californian landscape. By including details about the Behrani lifestyle, Dubus provides the reader with insight into the Iranian culture, and the hardships faced by immigrants. I thought it was interesting how something as seemingly insignificant as purchasing a house brings about such a crisis. What makes this story so easy to relate to is the different issues that each character is struggling with, and the desperations that cause irrational behavior. The forboding and suspenseful tone of the entire novel finally comes together in an unpredictable turn of events. The outcome makes a lasting impression on the reader. I highly recommend this novel.