The Hundred-Year House

Houses hold secrets--particularly old houses--and Laurelfield, the mansion and setting for Rebecca Makkai's second novel, is no exception. When Gracie and Bruce, owners of the estate, allow their daughter, Zee, and her husband, Doug, to move into the coach house, the young couple is suddenly confronted with bits and pieces of the home's history. Used as an arts colony from the 1920s to the 1950s, the house is haunted by the ghost of Violet Devohr--Zee's great-grandmother, immortalized in a prominent portrait in the dining room--who lurks in the hallways. There are also rumors of buried bodies and other family mysteries.

While Zee teaches English classes at the nearby university, Doug attempts to work on his research project (a book about Eddie Parfitt, a poet who once stayed at Laurelfield). Files that might help him are locked in the attic, which Gracie tenaciously guards, as she objects to Doug's probing into the past. When Bruce's son and daughter-in-law also move into the carriage house, the angst and secrets grow. As readers move through the suspenseful, amusing and slightly crazy story--written in reverse chronology--they'll understand the many intricate moves each character has made, until the full story is unveiled in the prologue at the end. Similar to the way an M.C. Escher drawing seems simultaneously nonsensical and rational, Makkai's novel will keep readers on edge until the last piece of the puzzle drops into place and the whole brilliant picture can be seen at once, sharp and clear. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

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