Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott
Published by Riverhead Books
Publication date: August 4th 2015
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Literary
Edith and her husband Declan bought their Brooklyn brownstone 66 years ago and have been living in it and renting out its apartments ever since. Now Declan has been gone for decades and the brownstone is host to the elderly Edith and four tenants. Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott is the story of this odd collection of souls. There is the artist, Thomas, who suffers a stroke and, with only a partial recovery, loses his will to paint and Edward, a burned-out, angry comedian who, to his own disgust, attained success by selling out. Adeleine is what is now known as a hoarder and an agoraphobe. And nestled amidst these grown-ups is 33-year-old Paulie, a man with the mind of a young boy, who lives on his own with the help of his older sister Claudia. In her wisdom and kindness Edith has welcomed in this group of unusual beings, people who might have difficulty in a regular apartment building, and it isn’t until age starts to catch up with her that their eclectic community is threatened.
Infinite Home is not a novel that hinges on a plot but is instead the kind where the sentences and how they flow make it worth reading. On the surface, these five adults would be known by their labels, if they were known at all. Alcott peels off the labels and looks at the layers beneath the surface, writing with compassion to give each life dignity. Adeleine does not just hoard, she writes a song for each item in her collection because “they deserve it” and Edith struggles to hold herself in the present while her mind slips to the past. Both Ed and Thomas find ways to connect with Paulie. For the reclusive Eddie, he is too much to face head on and so he videotapes their time together:
…Paulie onscreen, his bright and tiny teeth exposed and shining, his body forever batting like a moth to keep up with his wilderness of thoughts…
What takes Infinite Home from charming to deeply touching is how Alcott doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant or frustrating aspects of her characters. We feel their pain, revel in their beauty, but also find them puzzling or off-putting. Paulie is the perfect example because even as he enchants with his childlike exuberance and joy there is an understanding of what his sister Claudia must feel—like trying to control a Saint Bernard puppy. All that energy can easily become embarrassing and destructive. These are damaged characters, but through their stories, their baggage, their pasts, Alcott makes them shine. Using the quiet pace of everyday life her words blur the differences of Adeleine, Thomas, Paulie, Edward and Edith and bring forth their sameness, our sameness. The desire for security, stability and connection—all the things found in a home and community. The only tiny hitch in this beautiful flow is when the plot tries to overtake the writing. It’s not bad but it’s unnecessary. Like the thousands of fireflies Paulie travels to see gathering in a Tennessee meadow the luminescence of Alcott’s prose is more than enough to light Infinite Home.