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Cleaning Nabokov's House: A Novel Hardcover – March 1, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An odd mix of silly, ridiculous, and inspiring, Daniels's charming if scattered debut follows the unlikely course of Barb Barrett, numb and adrift after losing custody of her children. In her rented upstate New York house where Vladimir Nabokov once lived, Barb finds a sheaf of index cards, a possible unfinished Nabokov manuscript about Babe Ruth. Her efforts to get the book evaluated and published are the first steps out of her endearingly depressive hibernation, introducing her to literary agent Margie and handsome carpenter Greg. When the manuscript is judged not to be Nabokov's, the story takes a questionable, wacky turn, as Barb opens a cathouse staffed by athletes from the local college to service the unfulfilled women of her small town. This endeavor, of course, provides the funds for her to mount a new fight for her children, the self-esteem to begin a relationship, and the confidence to find a fulfilling career. Despite the curiosities of the grief-to-gumption plot, Daniels's writing is slick and her characters richly detailed, and even when it dips into sheer goofiness, it's still a pleasure to read. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

Some chutzpah first-time novelist Daniels has, writing a comic woman-in-distress novel involving the literary master Nabokov and a country cathouse. Daniels� crazy m�lange catches fire because her out-of-the-box narrator is hilarious, chaotic, and surprisingly resourceful. Wardrobe-challenged Barb, who is inordinately fond of toast, loses custody of her kids in a vicious divorce. Missing her life in New York City, she finds tiny Onkwedo, her ex�s upstate hometown, stifling. But there she must stay to fight for her little goth daughter and young gourmet son. Using her inheritance from her much-missed father, Barb buys a funky little house once occupied by Nabokov when he taught at the local college and discovers a hidden manuscript. Is it Nabokov�s? She also has an entrepreneurial brainstorm about how to lively up the glum women of Onkwedo. Daniels is warmly funny and audacious in this shrewd and saucy mix of family drama, gender discord, sexual healing, and high literature; a raucous yet sensitive tale of one quirky woman�s struggle to overcome the lowest of low self-esteem to get motherhood and love right. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439195021
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439195024
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,281,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
Barb Barrett just lost everything: her husband, her children, her home, and her financial security. She's a 39-year-old divorcee virtually alone in the world. Determined to start anew, she rents a house that once belonged to notorious author Vladimir Nabokov. In cleaning the house, she discovers a manuscript about baseball and love. It may or may not be written by the great Nabokov. Barb creates a plan to finish the manuscript and get it audience ready. Meanwhile, she struggles with losing full custody of her children to ex-husband and starts an unconventional sexy business.

From the cover, I would have never guessed this book contained all that it did. I am pleasantly surprised.

It's an original story with intriguing sub-plots. It's a story of self-fulfillment and a woman's journey to succeed at any cost. Baseball, romance, and small town living blend well. The characters are realistic. The wit is not forced. The book is overall different...in a very good way. The writing is sharp; Leslie Daniels applied her editing and publishing background to create a well-written debut novel. I will definitely be on the lookout for more of Daniels work.

Literary Marie of Precision Reviews
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Format: Hardcover
After reading this book, I was surprised to jump on Amazon and see all the great reviews. While it is undeniable that Daniels writes with amazing metaphor and does indeed paint some fantastic real-to-life (or sometimes better than) descriptions, I felt let down by the heroine and the main plot. I kept reading and reading, but half way through this novel, I still could not relate to Barb, and was, quite honestly, more annoyed with her than empathetic. I kept waiting for her to DO something, but the book is quite slow at getting you there.

Despite a few great laughs, the lack-of-action and the heroine's passive existence in her current circumstances wore at me like nails on a chalk board. When she finally gets around to doing something, it's not what is expected at all. But instead of finding this twist refreshing, it was just too unbelievable for me, leaving me feeling disappointed by the end of the book.

I did like some of the OTHER characters in this book, and enjoyed parts of the author's writing style, so I might consider reading something else written by her.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There were flashes of good writing here, but they were cancelled out by a
ridiculous storyline. Using local college students in a small town as male
prostitutes without media or legal attention? And that was only one of several
threads throughout the book that were too absurd to be believable, even in fiction.
It wasn't worth my time. And now it's on my Kindle forever.
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Format: Hardcover
Leslie Daniels' is good at one-liners; I laughed out loud more than once while reading this book. Barb Barrett is an appealing character in the sense that movie characters can be appealing: she is a fish out of water, she has emotional baggage, she doesn't give up.

At the beginning of the book Barb gets to the end of her rope, walks out on her husband and takes her kids camping "just over the state line," which earns her a kidnapping charge from her controlling husband and the loss of custody of her two children.

But frankly nothing really bad happens after this. Barb's life is described as "chaotic" but it is not really written as chaotic. She's able to buy her own house using the proceeds from her dead father's "good car" as a down payment. This sort of deus ex machina stuff abounds in this book, as it has in romantic comedies since "Bringing Up Baby."

Even though losing custody of your kids ought to be precipitated by really bad things happening, this is brought of as a misunderstanding. Barb doesn't do anything very scary and she does not sink very low nor does it go on for very long. Her despondency is conveyed by the fact that she wears the same pair of pants a lot and eats an unusual amount of toast. Barb expresses resentment toward the privilege undergraduates that she hires, but seems to have come from a similar background herself. If anything, it comes off as old money growling at new money.

The critique of Ithaca/Onkweda seems dead on to me, and her movement from dislike of the place to grudging affection is one of the more authentic evolutions in the book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Leslie Daniels is a great writer whose background as a literary agent serves her well in her craft.

Romance, baseball, a dog, small town upstate culture, crime, memoir/creative nonfiction, writing and authors and agents: women's fiction has a fresh new voice. Daniels mixes it all up so there's something for everyone. Plus humor, sardonic and ironic.

Walking away from a marriage because you don't know the proper way to load a dishwasher, the narrator beings the story with losing custody of her kids. Leslie Daniels weaves a tale without pity and applies the book business lessons from Lolita which Nabokov wrote while living in the house in Ithaca NY where Leslie Daniels lives.

I have only one wish about this book. The fictional name of our community as Onkwedo stinks. This seems too opaque when I live here. Perhaps this is the urbane Leslie who feels at home in the rush of pedestrian street traffic. Everyone who knows Nabokov is hip to Ithaca. And Ithaca has its own character, somewhere between Buck County and Fargo. When a novel's setting is in New York City, the author generally doesn't fictionalize it as New Jerk. I say this only because I think she's captured Ithaca's spirit ...light, dark, and shadows. Red. Not yellow and green. This town bleeds Red and the undercurrents implicating Cornell, not Waindell University, in the plot are as literary and sophisticated in nuance as Nabokov's Pnin, which my local reading group enjoyed reading a year ago. I just think Ithaca is such a book town that Ithaca could have worked more for her than against in the literary success of the book.
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