three-and-half-stars
By: 
Eric Puchner
user_rating: 
0

A-Model HomeEric Puchner is the author of the short story collection Music Through the Floor. His stories have appeared in many notable publications, including the Chicago Tribune and the Missouri Review. Model Home is his debut novel.

The Story: In this dark tale, Warren Ziller moves his wife and three children from their comfortable Wisconsin neighborhood to a gated community in Southern California. Warren has invested every cent he has into a desert subdivision; it's just a matter of time before the money rolls in. But he realizes--only too late--that the development is right next to a toxic waste dump. Now Warren is broke, and he can't seem to halt the slow but devastating implosion of his family life.
Scribner. 368 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780743270489

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"He's a master of mood and tone, able to make moments of pure hilarity follow heartbreak with the seamlessness of real life. ... This book deftly captures the '80s, a decade of illusory wealth, tawdry spectacle, and willful innocence--which also makes it the perfect novel for our time." Kevin O'Kelly

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]ll the Zillers come so alive that as a reader, I felt so deeply for them that the book became almost excruciating to read. The feckless parents in their numbing love, the desperate kids, struggling to stay alive and in love with a home-world crumbling around them." Alan Cheuse

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"[O]ne of the funniest and truest books published in years. ... Puchner expertly captures each family member's point of view." April Henry

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"The novel form, however, asks the author to plumb more deeply and reveal more fully the characters' emotions. As a novelist, Puchner is not yet fully at ease with this challenge, choosing at times to narrate emotion instead of trusting his skill at dramatizing the complicated relationships he has created." Kathryn Ma

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"He manages his plotting with a straightforward calm that helps take the sting out of the melodrama. The part of the book set in the desert, though, is less sure-footed." Marisa Silver

Dallas Morning News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Puchner also has an eye for the bizarre, and the proliferation of eccentric minor characters eventually is distracting. Somewhere between the trailer park Jesus impersonator and the hearing-impaired Deadhead scam artist, readers may conclude that Puchner oversampled the oddball demographic." Shawna Seed

Critical Summary

Although set in the mid-1980s, the Zillers' story will certainly resonate with today's readers. Critics found Model Home an enjoyable read that skillfully balances (some) humor, (a lot of) heartbreak, and a keen understanding of disintegrating family relationships. Critics were particularly impressed with Puchner's three-dimensional depiction of individual family members, as well as his precise rendering of the Southern California landscape. The novel stumbles a bit in the second half, however, with the introduction of bizarre, underdeveloped characters. But as a whole, Model Home is an impressive debut, a highly believable family portrait, and a compelling look into the failed American Dream.