House of the Deaf by Lamar Herrin is a melancholy story with melancholy characters. It is the story of the Williamson familyís attempt to deal with the death of daughter and sister Michelle in a terrorist bombing. Novels involving terrorism have of course become more common in the last few years, but this one takes a somewhat different approach in using the Basque terrorist organization known as ETA as the antagonist.
The novel opens a few years after Michelleís death. She traveled to Spain to study abroad where, during one of her regular morning jogs, she was caught in the blast of a terrorist bombing. Ben Williamson now finds himself financially in a position to visit the site of his daughterís death for an indefinite period. For much of the novel, the purpose of his visit to Spain is unclear. To some degree, it remains clouded through the climax of the book. He spends his time sitting in cafes, wandering the streets, and repeatedly visiting the spot where his daughter died. Meanwhile, his surviving daughter, Annie, arrives home from college to visit her father only to find him gone. She behaves much like her father halfway around the world, hanging around the house and aimlessly wandering her hometown.
Each surviving member of the family has attempted to come to terms with Michelleís death, and each does so in completely different ways. The parents end up divorcing as a result of their different coping methods. The mother, determined to recreate herself, works away the grief as an extremely driven real estate agent. Annie attempts to come to terms with her feelings for a sister with whom she never seemed to get along and quite possibly hated. The father researches the terrorist organization which took his daughterís life and travels to Spain to continue his search. It is this search that is the focus of much of the book. Annieís reconciliation with the memory of her sister and a missing father is the secondary plot line.
The feel of this book is quite strange. Besides being glum, the characters interact in a very odd manner. The dialogue is often awkward and unnatural; this is most specifically embodied in a woman with whom Ben falls in love with in Spain. She often speaks as if in puzzles, and conversations with Ben, and later Annie, are bizarre. They say mystical things that are supposed to have some deeper meaning but just end up sounding unnatural: people just donít talk to each other like that - unless thatís the way people speak after theyíve gone through some terrible loss.
House of the Deaf is an odd book. The concept is quite interesting - a fatherís attempt to understand the death of a child at the hands of terrorists - but the attempt does not quite pan out. There are too many distractions in the book, and the ending leaves something to be desired.