The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

The Hundred-Year House The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the Sisters Book Club selection for October. There’s still time to read along with us! Follow the link to join the group.

On page four of the copy I read, there’s a typo: A character “agreed to returned.” Not a huge thing, and I expect a certain number of editorial misses with any book, but with it on page four, I was nervous that I was in for a lot more of the same.

“It’s stochastic,” my spouse insisted. “It could be on page four or it could be on page 224.” I knew he just likes using the word “stochastic” and isn’t really invested in whether I finish a book or not, but still, I swallowed my misgivings and read on.

I am so glad I swallowed those misgivings. Not only did I not notice any other typos, the book was awesome. The reverse chronology worked incredibly well, including the part near the end where Makkai broke out of the time period she was in to give us a glimpse of how one event looked throughout the years. I loved seeing the outcome and then peeling back the layers to see what led to that outcome. It was maddening to see people’s mistakes happen over and over again, to see how much they missed because they were so tied up in their own lives, and to see how much responsibility they relinquished, blaming their choices on the house or the ghost(s) or their circumstances, anyone but themselves.

It’s a book about secrets, both intentional secrets and those that are just hidden by time and our own refusal to really see what’s around us. It’s also a book about transformation, about recognizing who we are and making the decision to be someone else. It’s about freedom both from the prisons made for us and from those we’ve made for ourselves. And it also seems to be about how isolated we are and all of our clumsy attempts to break through and understand one another, and how much we miss and misunderstand from our limited viewpoints.

This review is oblique, but I’m nervous about writing anything detailed. Makkai makes so many small and large revelations as she takes us back in time, and I want to avoid spoiling that process. So I’ll just say that—once I got past page four—I could hardly put this book down and when I closed the back cover, I had to stop myself from turning the book over and starting again because it was after 11pm and my kids wake up early no matter how late I go to bed. As someone devoted to, at least to an extent, reinventing myself every three or four years but always feeling like I’ve not gone far enough, like I’ve carried too much along with me that I should have jettisoned, this book really spoke to me.

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