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Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls Paperback – January 20, 2004
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“...his matter-of-fact depiction of the relationships between different personalities is remarkable for its imaginative details.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Set This House in Order brings extraordinary warmth to the chilliest of childhoods.” (O magazine)
About the Author
Matt Ruff is the author of The Mirage, Bad Monkeys, Set This House in Order, Fool on the Hill, and Sewer, Gas & Electric. He lives in Seattle.
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I spent a lot of time reading this forming theories of what was going on, what connections between characters (or souls) were, and how things would wrap up. I was almost unerringly wrong. Every time.
I LOVED it. This is a book of reveals, not only for the reader, but for the characters. There is one reveal about halfway through the book that really got me, but looking back, the clues were there. It is so subtly done, so skillfull... Ruff really wields his pen (or typewirter, or computer, or whatever) like a scalpel, with such precision that it is a work of art.
However, I agree with many others that the ending doesn't fit the creativity and depth that the rest of the story does. I also feel the book could have been 1/4 to 1/3 as long without getting bogged down in the day to day minutiae of the character's lives that doesn't really add much to the story.
Also, if you're sensitive to any sort of emotional, mental, or sexual abuse, this is not the book for you. I almost quit it halfway through because of it. It's not that it's super graphic, it's just that it's difficult to experience 3rd hand at points.
Overall the book was very, very interesting, and artfully crafted, but I think the author could have benefited from one or two more edits, cutting down on fluff and completely overhauling the ending.
This is one of the best fiction books I've read this year. Ruff's handling of the multiple personalities is both inventive and sensitive. He is straightforward in dealing with the abuse that led to Andrew and Penny's fractured state - it's clearly important, but not sensationalized. In spite of the serious subject matter, Ruff manages to incorporate a good measure of humor into the story. Andrew's journey gives a whole new meaning to "finding yourself." Ruff's excellent characterizations make it easy to root for Andrew, Penny, and their collective internal societies.
I like that Ruff avoids the trap of a cliched, sappy ending, instead making it clear that there are no easy solutions. Ruff's plot was engrossing in all its twists and turns, and only one late section seemed to jump a bit off the tracks. This is a compelling book that will entertain you even as it makes you think about how we all interact with the world.