House Lights
Leah Hager Cohen
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Buy *House Lights* by Leah Hager Cohen online

House Lights
Leah Hager Cohen
W.W. Norton
320 pages
July 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Beatrice Fisher-Hart has been raised by a close-knit, academic family, her parents well-established therapists in their Boston community. Growing up under the watchful eye of the Fisher-Hart’s perfectly regulated household-cum-office, Beatrice has found security and comfort in her home, idealizing her father from childhood.

Secretly dreaming of a career as an actress, Beatrice contacts her estranged grandmother, Margaret Fourcey, a former successful stage actress. After an anxious luncheon with her grandmother, Beatrice experiences the acceptance of this little-known figure, invited to attend Margaret’s weekly salons with others in the theater including well-known producer Hale Rubin. Of an age with her father, Rubin contributes his considerable experience to the salon, enjoying Beatrice’s blooming talent. The gatherings become more than opportunity, rather a place of psychic nourishment and reconnection with a woman she has never known.

Meanwhile, the genteel façade of the Fisher-Harts’ professionalism is under assault, Beatrice’s father, Jeremy, accused of sexual harassment. Closing ranks, the Fisher-Harts present their usual calm mien to the world. But for Beatrice, long ago memories resurface, overheard conversations that seemed innocent to her young ears now acquiring a more unsavory meaning.

Revolting against the precisely managed atmosphere of her parents’ world, especially under this recent, devastating attack, and increasingly frustrated with the lack of answers offered by a father who has suddenly grown feet of clay, Beatrice takes advantage of an opportunity to leave home, invited to participate in a theater workshop, assigned the role her grandmother formerly played on stage.

As her close family ties disintegrate, Beatrice is inexorably drawn to Hale Rubin, the older man a comfort as well as attractive to a young woman struggling to redefine her identity in view of a questionable past with dissembling parents. Questioning her own motives, Beatrice is torn in her attraction to Hale but unable to resist; for his part, Hale is delighted that this talented young woman could love him.

As a daughter in transition to adulthood, flirting with a serious romance that calls into question everything she has believed about herself, Beatrice increasingly views her life as a series of acts, achingly self-conscious as the house lights “suddenly illuminate the larger reality in which a play was being staged.”

Although the novel often borders on the precious, Hager redeems herself in the denouement, injecting the final pages with immediacy and authenticity of surprising depth, the torment of a broken man who cannot ask for help, the uneasy peace between mothers and daughters and the wilderness that has engulfed the Fisher-Harts nuclear family. Coming of age, Beatrice plunges into the world of the theater and a marriage that is outside convention, taking to heart the harsh lessons of love and loss and the surprising freedom of following her heart.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2007

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