Dream House
Valerie Laken
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Buy *Dream House* by Valerie Laken online

Dream House
Valerie Laken
352 pages
February 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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A murderous event jumpstarts this tightly bound literary thriller where dreams are shattered and a group of people find themselves overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their control, their lives forever linked to a ramshackle house situated on a quiet street in a suburb near Ann Arbor. Just seven years out of college, Kate and Stuart purchase the house with the best of intentions, hoping that it will somehow help rejuvenate the insecure threads of their marriage.

Kate’s father, a successful housing developer, can’t believe that the couple would purchase this particular house. A two-story box topped with the steep triangle of a full attic, its chimney tilting slightly from the ridgeline of the roof and its paint blistering, the house has a formidable reputation.

In 1987, it was the scene of a violent murder that rocked the neighborhood, its  aftermath so bad that even the spray of blood and bullet holes proved to be too much for the impressionable twenty-something Jay who was hired as part of the clean-up crew. Although Kate and Stuart are aware there was some kind of scandal, Kate in particular is fanatical in her desire to remake the house, zealously setting about demolishing walls and pulling up floors, doing things with an eerily magical speed and efficiency: “it was as if she and the house had developed their own code.”

The tormented Stuart, however, cannot settle. Amid the plaster and the lath, the drywall and the stripper, the place explodes, throwing Kate and Stuart in different directions. While Stuart aches to be free, rejecting “the queasy fun-house slipperiness of it all,” he embarks on a strange walkabout, seeking refuge in a camping area where he and Kate once stayed. Kate is left to shoulder the burdens of their dream house.

Kate and Stuart’s story unfolds in conjunction with that of Walker Price, just released from prison after eighteen years hard time for murder. For Walker, the house is spiritual, so much more than cement, stone, wood and insulation. Although now he takes charity from the kindly Reverend Howard only eight blocks away from Macon Street, Walker remains under the spell of his old home, preoccupied by the events of that terrible, violent night and the rapid shooting of the drunk who was abusing his mother.

While Kate, Walker and Jay form an unlikely trio, these past events continue to remain hidden. Laken beautifully melds Walker’s torment, the memories of his dead brother Jerome, who was there that fateful night, with Kate’s confusion as she tries to save her struggling marriage, with Jay’s demons, the mystery of the whereabouts of his girlfriend Claire, and Stuart's memories of the difficulties of his autistic brother, Danny.

While flashbacks flesh out the characters’ pasts, they also lay the groundwork for what is to come. While the house remains a powerful allegory for shattered lives, the climax results from an unexpected accident. As fire inevitably rages, all of the characters are forced into a painful and hard-won redemption. The loss of romantic ideals and the destruction of dreams are important threads woven throughout this story, the secrets of a house and its hidden interiors ultimately showing a series of mislaid promises and a collective, searing pain.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2009

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