three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-Dream HouseIn this debut novel, Valerie Laken, a Pushcart Prize–winning writer who teaches creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, explores the meaning of home.

The Story: In Ann Arbor in 1987, a terrible murder occurs at a historic house on Macon Street, and a young black man trying to hold his family and his dead father’s dream together is sent to prison. Nearly two decades later, Kate and Stuart, struggling to save their marriage, find charming fixer-upper possibilities in the now rundown house on Macon Street. Soon, Kate—and two men with ties to the murder—coalesce around this haunted house in attempts to come to grips with the past and present. Yet the house drives Kate and Stuart even farther apart, and each person finds the meanings of family, home, and the American dream as elusive and dangerous as ever.
Harper. 422 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 0060840927

Detroit Metro Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In her debut novel, Dream House, Valerie Laken tells it like it is: Personal fulfillment can only come from within, not via corporeal means. Candidly reflecting on the sacrifices people make to maintain, achieve or, in some cases, avoid the American dream and all its trappings—a dog, a grill, lawn furniture, potted plants and the like—Laken delivers a keen account of how class, race and personal values shape the definition of family and home." Christa Buchanan

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Having assembled the plot machinery for a sturdy thriller, Laken does none of the expected things. Instead, she uses the framework to support an ambitious study of people in search of a home—‘home’ being a metaphor for the elusive something that defines and validates the self." Marilyn Stasio

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"This isn’t a haunted-house story in the traditional sense, but it’s still just as chilly. … Laken juggles the multiple story lines in Dream House with ease, but doesn’t have the same deft hand with her characters, particularly the annoyingly clichéd Kate and Stuart." Kate Ward

Critical Summary

On many levels, critics praised Dream House, a domestic drama inspired by Laken’s own experience buying and renovating a home in which a murder had occurred. No ordinary ghost story, it offers insight into the troubled human psyche and a deep inquiry into the meaning of home through multiple storylines. Lessons about materialism, self, sacrifices, class, race, and values also emerge. Reviewers agreed that the prologue is a short masterpiece and that the novel as a whole is an excellent portrait of "the stereotypes that distinguish posh Ann Arbor, backwoods Dexter, and Ypsilanti" (Detroit Metro Times). The only complaint came from Entertainment Weekly, which found fault with the main characters. Otherwise, Laken is a writer to watch.