Kathleen McCleary’s first novel, House and Home, reverberates with devotion and passion from the first page, when we read about main character Ellen’s feelings about her house, her home: “…because of all this history with the house, all the parts of her life unfolding there day after day for so many years, that Ellen decided to burn it down.” Raised in a home that later was mine when I married, I spent 45 years of my life there, so I fervently identify with Ellen’s feeling. Despite all the positives that came with our move, there was that feeling of personal possession just like Ellen had, which made turning my house over to the new buyers a heart-wrenching experience.
Ellen Flanagan’s marriage is at the heart of the story that lives in this charming yellow Cape Cod home in Oregon. Ellen’s years of loyalty to her husband, Sam, have led them all over the country to follow his dream of inventing the next best discovery for mankind. Sam feels they need to live where the invention would be best used, so every mishap is followed by a new idea and a new address. Finally, Ellen convinces Sam to let them put down roots so they can have a family and she can fulfill her dream of owning a decorating business. That dream plays out in Portland, in the very house that they now find themselves forced to sell.
With his newest invention, a baby beeper, Sam wants to move again to a better test market, and this results in Ellen and Sam separating as Ellen can’t do it one more time. She does not want to give up all they have in their home, in their lives. The painful sale of the house is a result of Sam losing so much money on this newest project, and at this point the action really takes off. You can’t put this book down as you live, laugh, and experience Ellen’s misguided but desperately well-intended plot to keep her home after all.
Ann Douglas once said, “Home is an invention on which no one has yet improved.” Unfortunately, this is not the invention Sam made, and the house must be sold to pay off the debts. Ellen’s dealing with this and the new insufferable buyers is a fun ride. Kathleen McCleary does a splendid job of developing characters that the reader cares about and can relate to. The story, clever and funny but also tugging at your heartstrings, contains delightfully unexpected twists and turns that lead to a surprise ending most will never see coming. This treasured first novel makes one eager for McCleary’s next book.