Infinite Home
Kathleen Alcott
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Buy *Infinite Home* by Kathleen Alcottonline

Infinite Home
Kathleen Alcott
336 pages
August 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Alcott’s prose reflects a dreamscape where characters rise above their existence to clinch small moments of love, forgiveness and understanding. In Infinite Home, place makes an important statement: a ramshackle Brooklyn brownstone where decades of neglect have left the property an elaborate obstacle course. Edith, the owner and the landlord, has begun to suffer from Alzheimer‘s, mentally confusing words even as she continues to be attentive, reliable, and  well-liked by her odd assortment of tenants: Thomas, Edward, Adeleine, and Paulie, who suffers from Williams syndrome. No one except Edith would rent to a strangely loquacious man of six-foot-two with an eight-year-old’s disposition.

At her core, Edith has believed herself to be the same person she’d been at twenty-three. Although she has aged dramatically in the past few years, she still recalls her daughter, Jenny, who left for California when she was eighteen and how her husband, Declan, spoke of his role as an eccentric and always complemented his wife for being so glamorous and so beautiful. So begins the sad vigil of a graceful, ageing woman whose only company are her group of mismatched tenants whom she welcomes for a bit of conversation or understanding.

Edith’s elder son, the selfish Owen, wants to put his mother in a retirement facility against her will, causing Edith to try to find a way through the loveless way he looks at her. While damaged Thomas asks about her life, Edith finds herself pining for dear, departed Declan, wondering about his whereabouts, her eyes growing wet as she reaches for a “dangling memory.” As Thomas searches Edith’s the last will and testament, he hatches a plan to find Jenny--the lost, damaged child--to tell her that her mother is sick and needs her help.

The novel fixates on solitude and isolation and loneliness. Icy gray Brooklyn suburbia is juxtaposed with the sunny ambience of San Francisco, where Thomas hunts for Jenny, and also Tennessee, where Edward takes Paulie and Paulie’s sister, Claudia, to watch the fireflies. A road trip of sorts, the journey cements Edward and Claudia’s friendship and Claudia’s loyalty to her disabled brother, a devotion that is sorely tested by her ex-husband whom she leaves to look after Paulie. Each character--including isolated Adeleine, who lives in a closed world of musty books and antiquities--must learn to balance the joy of love against angst and regret.

Telling her tale from the point of view of each character, Alcott's protagonists never quite fit into their own lives. It’s not surprising, then, that the tenants are drawn to Edith and the shabby apartment she lives in, filled with junk and artwork and the detritus that others have discarded. While Edward, a former stand-up comedian, wears his baseball cap pulled low and is sometimes frustrated by Paulie, it is Thomas who truly rises to the occasion. Wearing his recent stroke like “a new shirt,” Thomas, an accomplished painter, is naturally drawn to the beautiful Adeleine, who finds herself hijacked by depraved Owen while Thomas is off searching for Jenny in California.

Alcott entrances us with her unique, lush prose, reflecting her characters’ hopes and dreams across the spiritual and natural worlds. The novel reminded me a lot of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series in its study of the gentle weave and texture of life. Infusing her narrative with wry, placid humor, Alcott charts Edith’s course though middle-aged anxiety, the demands of her nefarious son, and the needs of her beloved, accidental extended family.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2015

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