Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: May 12th 2015
Benjamin is forty-four and finds himself kicked out of his house and life by his wife for cheating on her yet again. With nowhere to go he moves in with his father only to discover that his high school crush Audrey just moved in down the street with her husband and their teenage daughter. Because nothing is ever as it seems Benjamin’s not-so-subtle efforts to reconnect pay off. This is just one aspect of the many phases of relationships found in Housebreaking by author Dan Pope. In six parts Pope carefully splices together the lives of Benjamin, Audrey, their spouses and families, beginning in the summer of 2007 and ending with Thanksgiving of that year when not everyone is thankful.
In working with a chronological format but through multiple characters Pope walks us through the same events repeatedly but with a different set of eyes each time. That he does so without being clumsy or repetitive gives Housebreaking a panoramic feel. On a more personal level it is like slipping into each character’s skin then shedding it to move onto the next. It is an intimate style and works well as does the majority of the novel. There is only one character and plot line that does not work. Audrey’s husband, Andrew is a high-powered lawyer who defends corporations against employment discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits. Pope chooses to have him fall prey to a situation that is completely implausible for someone whose career has been spent ferreting out secrets and lies. On a smaller scale this might go unnoticed within the story, but no one would make mistakes of this caliber at Andrew’s level.
Despite the Andrew scenario being a fail for me, Housebreaking has so much else going for it. Pope approaches the conflicts and internal mayhem of midlife with finesse—the ennui, confusion, and crises—and yet, doesn’t stop there. He imbues the novel with the same level of empathy and emotional immediacy for a number of life stages, from the teenage angst of changing schools to the later-in-life struggles with ill-health and the subsequent loss of independence. With one exception Housebreaking is a realistic novel about the messiness of life and how we each try to clean it up.