A Good House
Author: Bonnie Burnard
About A Good House: Nearly five decades in the lives of the Chambers family.
Bill and Sylvia Chambers live in a quiet town with their three children, Patrick, Daphne, and Paul. Bill works at the local hardware store and Sylvia takes care of the house and the family. Life looks pretty good in 1949.
[Bill] had come home alive, to his family, to his job, to his comfortable house on Stonebrook Creek. And in 1949, with the war mercifully over and won, the only cost to Bill those three fingers and the time it took to train his left hand, with the country ready to enter an unprecedented boom and Sylvia confident that she could get her children safely through their childhood, comfortable was what the Chambers were hoping against hope to be.
...from pages 7-8
We follow the Chambers family for nearly fifty years. Through births and deaths, marriages and divorces, sadness and joy. We watch them grow and adapt and cope with life-altering events. There's nothing really remarkable about them. Nobody saves the world or discovers a cure for cancer. Nobody becomes Prime Minister or catches a serial killer. They're just a regular family (more or less) living a regular life in a small town.
Women took centre stage for most of the book. Sylvia who didn't always say what she wanted to say; Margaret who sometimes seemed too good to be true, always knowing exactly what to do or say; and Daphne who baffled me with some of the decisions she made.
The men were mostly minor characters. Bill who didn't develop much of a personality until near the end and then, an unfortunate one; Patrick who was rigid and mostly unlikeable; Paul who wasn't given much of a personality but even so, living in a rural area, I recognized him; and Murray who wasn't officially a member of the family but was the character I felt I knew the best.
The town was almost a character itself and was actually the reason I picked up the book in the first place. I'd read an interview with Burnard that said Stonebrook was based on a small town near Lake Huron and that she refused to identify it. Since I've been nearly everywhere that could be considered close to the lake that sounded like a challenge to me. Within the first couple of pages, I had possibilities. Within the first couple of chapters, I knew exactly which town it was. Burnard did everything but draw a map. Not much of a challenge after all.
Two things bothered me about the book. I didn't feel as connected to the family as I would have liked. There was very little dialogue and I think that was why I felt like I didn't really know them. I was always aware of being separate, of simply watching. There was a distance there that made me feel like I was watching from across the room, rather than over their shoulders.
Also, some significant things happened during the unrecorded years. It was a bit disorienting, for example, to have a couple appear to be happily married at the end of one chapter and divorced at the beginning of the next.
Relatively minor complaints though and overall, it was a well-written, quiet book with a family that I won't soon forget.
Reviewed by Lynn Bornath.
- Kiersten Marek, Rain Taxi, 2001.
- “With heavy exposition, the narrative of A Good House often feels more like a well-versed family history than a novel.”
- Zaheera Jiwaji, The Charlotte Austin Review Ltd., 2000.
- “...one encounters life as it is truly lived in the small and ordinary acts.”
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Added 01 March 2006.
Updated 30 March 2013.