Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

It is the middle of the twentieth century, and in a home economics program at a prominent university, real babies are being used to teach mothering skills to young women. For a young man raised in these unlikely circumstances, finding real love and learning to trust will prove to be the work of a lifetime.

In this captivating novel, bestselling author Lisa Grunwald gives us the sweeping tale of an irresistible hero and the many women who love him. From his earliest days as a “practice baby” through his adult adventures in 1960s New York City, Disney’s Burbank studios, and the delirious world of the Beatles’ London, Henry remains handsome, charming, universally adored—and never entirely accessible to the many women he conquers but can never entirely trust.

Filled with unforgettable characters, settings, and action, The Irresistible Henry House portrays the cultural tumult of the mid-twentieth century even as it explores the inner tumult of a young man trying to transcend a damaged childhood. For it is not until Henry House comes face-to-face with the real truths of his past that he finds a chance for real love.

My take: 3 looks
I find the summary to be a bit heavy-handed. Phrases like "portrays the cultural tumult", "explores the inner tumult", and "trying to transcend a damaged childhood" are a bit over-the-top and melodramatic for this book, in my opinion. Is cultural change presented? Yes. How could it not be when the book moves the story and its characters through more than 20 years. Inner tumult? Yes. However, who among us had not experienced inner tumult at times? Damaged childhood? Maybe, but not altogether sure on that.

In my opinion, this is a marvelous premise for a delightfully written book. A home-ec program in the 1950s that uses real babies! Henry is one of the "house babies" and has a different childhood, for sure. Henry is an interesting character, as is all of the "mothers", the instructor, and the various women whom Henry encounters as an adult. However, the damage done to Henry is not quite plausible to me. After all, what is the real difference in today's daycare and this home-ec class? You still have a number of women taking care of a baby throughout the day, with one consistent "mother" throughout it all.

The fact that Henry learns at a young age how to manipulate these women, therefore the relationships, was also a bit far-reaching, but probably more viable than his lack of emotional attachment to any one of them. Meeting Peace and seeing that she, too, suffered the same lack of emotional attachment, along with the underlying suggestion that all of these "house" babies were likewise marred, was (again) a stretch.

What made the book delightful? I loved the very complex characters of Henry's mother, Martha, and the contrast of one of the house mothers, Betty.  Martha was perfectly drawn and so compelling. I could taste her longing to be a mother, her love for Henry, her ache and pain at his response to her. I loved how she grew emotionally as the book progressed, from a starched matron to a place of quiet wisdom.

Betty was a surprisingly complex character, as well. Her wishy-washy youth, lost young adulthood and final descent into the world she ultimately chooses. Both of these women made the book very satisfying for me. I liked everyone else, too, but these two were the pillars on which the (Henry) House was built.

Highly recommended.

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