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The House on Fortune Street

by Margaret Livesey

      The intellectual elements of this outstanding new book by Margo Livesey do not stand out to the exclusion of the characterizations and the mystery, which is one of the delightful things about this very real contribution to women's literature. In a realistic and remarkable way, the plot weaves in and out in a seamless view of the lives of characters Sean, Abigail, Cameron and Dara. Although it includes this component of four different viewpoints, the novel is not so much about how the four impact each other, but how each of them, despite remarkable differences, share a common thread of isolation and regret. The story isn't four different perspectives on one incident, but rather a glimpse of how the past affects the present and the present molds the future.

The story opens with Sean and his absorption with completing his overdue dissertation on the poet Keats. As his present unfolds to the reader, the themes of past loneliness and remorse become evident. Sucked into writing again with the undependable and irascible Valentine he finds himself facing the uncomfortable subject of euthanasia. The moral implications and the human rights issues entwine in his relationship with Abigail, his girlfriend. Owner of the House on Fortune Street, and of a theater company, she has a cavalier and egotistical view of relationships and a workaholic approach to living. The next section is about Cameron, Dara's father, who has a fascination with Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and a concurrent well-hidden streak of pedophilias. He left Dara when she was ten, and she has not really ever understood why, or been able to create a healthy relationship of her own. Instead, her love affair with the married Edward creates a void in her life she cannot fill. As Cameron attempts to reconcile with his sensitive and overly fragile daughter, he finds himself having to come to terms with his unacceptable passions, as well as being beset by a self-driven need to understand the underlying cause of his past behavior.

Livesey blends her story together stylishly, not letting the reader escape sensitive subjects or awkward truths. However, although the reader may mentally wiggle and squirm, we are bound to her prose, and committed to reaching the end of the tale. The last two sections are as profound and moving as the first two, focusing on neighbors Dara and Abigail.

Dara is struggling with her neediness, but in her struggles, she sweeps the reader into a deeper understanding of the choices we all make and the repercussions of those choices. Her deep emotional involvement with her lover creates in her a void, and instead of turning to her friends, such as Abigail, or even to her father, who desperately wants to love her, she isolates herself in mourning for the person she would like to be.

Abigail's storyline contributions come last in the series of vignettes, yet her place is pivotal to understanding the lives around her. As readers come to know each character, and what "makes them tick" they can see that Abigail's present talents and past struggles are the very things that make it so hard for her to stick with one man for long, or understand her own motivations.

It is always tempting to think that as readers, we know what the author is trying to say, or what the message of the book may be. In actuality, writers such as Margot Livesey are so popular because they are writing a literary and cerebral manifesto which puts the reader in the driver's seat. Is the book about chance? About choices? About human frailty and emotional need? It may be all of these things, or something quite different. The glory of this book is that as you close the covers in contemplation, and with a sigh of enjoyment for being able to appreciate such talent... you cannot help but wonder what chances, choices, frailty and need are present and motivating your own life. ENJOY!

The Book

May 2008
Women's Fiction (but not chick-lit)
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The Reviewer

Laura Strathman Hulka
Reviewed 2008
© 2008