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Three Story House: A Novel Paperback – August 19, 2014
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From the Back Cover
As they renovate a historic Memphis house together, three cousins discover that their spectacular failures in love, career, and family provide the foundation for their future happiness in this warm and poignant novel reminiscent of The Postmistress and The Secret Life of Bees
Approaching thirty and trying to avoid the inescapable fact that they have failed to live up to everyone's expectations as well as their own aspirations, cousins and childhood best friends Lizzie, Elyse, and Isobel seek respite in an oddly shaped, three-story house that sits on a bluff sixty feet above the Mississippi River.
As they work to restore the nearly condemned house, each woman faces uncomfortable truths about her own failings. Lizzie seeks answers to a long-held family secret about her father in their grandmother's jumble of mementos and the home's hidden spaces. Elyse's obsession with an old flame leads her to a harrowing mistake that threatens to destroy her sister's wedding. And Isobel's quest for celebrity tempts her to betray confidences in ways that could irreparably damage her two cousins.
This sharply observed account of the restoration of a house built out of spite but filled with memories of love is also a tale of friendship and a lesson in how relying on one another's insights and strengths provides the women with a way to get what they need instead of what they want.
About the Author
Courtney Miller Santo teaches creative writing to college students and lives in Memphis with her husband, two children, and retired racing greyhound.
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They formed a unique connection, these three unexpected cousins, all born during the same month and year. Elyse and Isobel were full of questions for Lizzie, about her life and her dad. But Lizzie, who had lived only with her mother and grandmother in her Grandmother Mellie’s house in Memphis, had no knowledge of her father. Not his name, who he was, or what had happened to him. This fact of her life would haunt her.
Fast forward to November 2011, in Los Angeles, where Lizzie and Isobel have been living in their adulthood, and to a phone call that will take the two of them, joined also by Elyse, back to Memphis and a crumbling, condemned house. The three story house that had been home to Lizzie, and which needed major repairs, rested on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River, and would take them out of their real lives during its restoration. During the process, the house would come to symbolize all of their own failings. Struggling to overcome the challenges they will each discover truths about themselves and what they must do next.
Isobel had starred in a TV show in childhood, and now seeks to find her place in the industry via a reality show during the restoration. Elyse is trying to overcome her obsession with her old lover who is now going to marry her sister. And Lizzie, an athlete, is recovering from her third knee surgery, and wondering if she can ever play soccer again.
Three Story House: A Novel took place mostly in Memphis during the restoration, but also flipped back and forth in time, revealing significant moments in the lives of the women, now almost thirty.
Divided into three sections, the story focused on each young woman, and I found parts of it fascinating. Within the walls of the old house were clues that could be sorted and assembled to point to some of the answers.
Strange and somewhat disconnected characters filled out the canvas, all having something to do with the past, or with the restoration. While the story dragged for me at times, in the end, there was a satisfactory resolution for each of them, in a sense; however, the revelations felt a little like a balloon that has gone flat. A lot of furor over nothing much. 3.5 stars.
My copy has a section at the back with a historical note on spite houses, an extended bio of the author, reading questions, and a "short beginning"--what I guess is an alternate opening--that flashes back to the beginning of Spite House. I wish there was more of an explanation of this beginning, but it has some nice background information that was not included in the novel.
Content note: This book has sexual references and adult language.
I would definitely recommend both books if you are looking for a good set of books for a trip or a vacation or beach read. No heavy lifting; not intense story lines. But a good story in both. I enjoyed the writing!
I learned a lot about spite houses from this book. I thought that the book was okay.