Great House

book by Nicole Krauss

Annotation by Talya Jankovits

I have come to know myself as a book hugger. It only happens to a few lucky books and it really takes a lot for me to want to take that hard, short spine in my arms and embrace it as a friend, also as a somewhat obsessive and envious fellow writer. My most recent book hug was with Nicole Krauss’ “Great House”, and great it was.

In this marvelous novel of humanity, vulnerability, loss, love and worldly chaos, Krauss uses the simple object of a desk to stir up a whirlwind of interconnecting stories. This strikes me as a remarkable thing to do, to use something inanimate and familiar in order to dig up the most honest insecurities, doubts and discoveries in her character’s lives. And while this desk is important, it is also utterly disposable because the real meat, the real beauty lies in the characterization and the tiny stories that hold large quantities of mortal humanity in them.

A multitude of lives are inter-crossed through the constant recycling of a desk that originally sat in the study of a Polish Jew before his life was shattered by the Second World War. At first, I couldn’t seem to grasp how all these people were connected, why they were relevant to one another besides for the commonality of once having owned this large and overpowering desk, but as I continued to read, I realized that sometimes even the most subtle and seemingly trivial ways people connect in real and often haunting situations can lead to an incredible story and Krauss knows a good story. She knows how to develop the voices, the nuances and the sometimes brutal and devastating honesty of her characters that stir you into a deep, emotional awakening.

How does she do it? I wanted to know because I too want to write stories that might one day cause a reader to hug my cardboard spine. It’s all about the building; Krauss layers and not always with beautiful bricks. Her characters are whole but not necessarily enjoyable. Never flat, but so round they can barely fit through the door, their baggage is real and sometimes quirky enough that you can imagine that yes, people are keeping secrets like this. Often times I find that characterization gets sick with flatness and familiarity, but Krauss is so detailed in building and revealing her characters that you know this person, you feel as if you have been privy to peek into their closed curtains. Reading Krauss’ novel makes me want to go back to my own, to start to undress my characters and be sure that they are whole, that I’ve remembered every nuance. Because I strongly believe that Krauss knew even more of her characters then she eventually revealed to the reader and I truly think this is a secret tool to creating fictional people. Each chapter is written in the first person of a different character’s voice (some voices repeating again in second chapters) and while the chapters are not titled by the character’s names the reader can still easily distinguish between the multitude of voices. Now that is effective and successful characterization. To know these people, to wish their stories were never ending is beauty. And on top of all this, her prose is gorgeous.

Once again, the novelist, Nicole Krauss has gotten me to wrap myself around her book both physically and emotionally. A book to read for pleasure and for craft.

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