By Deborah Gould. Fiction, with illustrations. Trade paperback, 320 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9824-848-4-5. $17.95. Published in May 2011. The publisher will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book to the Family Violence Project of Augusta, Maine. A Reader's Guide is available for this title.
What does a house hold? With rich plans for the future, Margaret and Lee have bought their first home, an old farmhouse in rural Maine. But as they sand and patch and paint and polish, Margaret feels Lee becoming as distant as the nearest town, as inaccessible as the stones that wall the property. Margaret's idea of family, that circle of warmth and cherishing, is also receding. Lee becomes more erratic and unreachable, until Margaret's fear is "something real, like dust or rotting leaves."
Then Margaret herself begins to retreat, back into the gentle agrarian world of Ellen Thatcher, the woman who lived in her house more than a hundred years earlier.
Trying to learn all she can about the Thatchers, Margaret spools through microfilms of newspapers and agricultural reports, deeds and probates. And as she researches, imagines, and identifies with Ellen, Richard, and their five children, she finds a family to belong to. Happiest – and safest – in company with the Thatchers, who give her comfort in "their common, lovely lives," Margaret clutches this past tightly as she tries to survive, from one day to the terrifying next, inside the dissolution of her household.
When I pushed through the swinging door to the staff room for my mid-morning break, Cooper was standing in front of the snack machine, her left hand on her hip, her right poised above the selection buttons. She shifted her weight from foot to foot.
“I can’t decide,” she said, “if I need chocolate or salt the most.”
“Yep.” She looked back at the machine. “Sad and pre-menstrual—the old chocolate/salt debate.”
“Not good,” I said. “A double whammy.”
Cooper’s coffee cup was on the corner of the staff table in front of one of the chairs. I pulled my thermos out of my tote bag and sat in the chair across from it in a patch of sunlight.
“Lord,” said Cooper, “I can’t decide.” She rubbed her temples with her fingers. “Give me a letter,” she said through the palms of her hands, “any letter.”
M is for Margaret, I thought. “M,” I answered.
Cooper pushed the M, stood back a step or two and looked through the glass into the snack machine, into the light that glowed back out onto her face.
“Now,” she said, “a number. One through nine, but, please, not four: If you say four, then I’ll have to eat Ranch chips, and I don’t think I could stand it.”
I thought of the cows in the Thatchers' barn. “Five.”
Cooper pushed the 5. The machine clicked and hummed; the giant corkscrew that held M5s turned and pushed forward. I heard a thunk as something in a brown wrapper dropped into the chute and slid out below, and then she leaned over to retrieve whatever it was. She ripped the paper on her way back to the table and shook the bag into her hand.
“M&Ms,” she said, holding some in her outstretched palm.
“Thanks.” I pinched a few between my thumb and first two fingers, slid them into my mouth and chewed. The chocolate burst across my tongue like a whistle, rich and pure.
“Wow!” I said, “I’d forgotten about these.”
Cooper grinned. “You know,” she said, “when I was growing up, my parents used to buy bags of M&Ms for car trips, and my brother and I used to divide them by color – a green for you, a green for me, a yellow for you, a yellow for me …”
She did this, now, on the table, setting out two for me, two for her.
I put my two in my mouth. Cooper did, too.
“We’d line ‘em up on the car seat,” she said.
“What about the odd ones?” I asked.
“Odd ones?” She looked at me. “Oh … leftovers? The ones with no partners?”
“Easy,” she said. “Our parents got those!”
She sighed, leaned back in her chair. “You know,” she said, “there are kids in this school who’ve never been on a trip with their parents.”
I sipped my coffee.
“There are kids here who’ve never played a board game, or a card game, with their parents; never had a parent read a book to them or tell them a story.” She shook some more M&Ms into her hand and tossed them back into her mouth, a quick, sure motion. “And those are the lucky ones.”
I looked over at her.
“There are others,” she went on, “who’ve been manipulated so much, emotionally attacked so much, that they don’t know what a normal relationship looks like.”
The bell rang for fourth period, and Cooper stood up, pushed her chair back. “Can you imagine that?” she asked me, leaning for a moment against the back of the chair. “Can you imagine not knowing what a normal relationship is supposed to be like?”
Household is a riveting story of increasing intimate partner violence, and Margaret's unfolding recognition of Lee's dangerousness. As most victims discover, it is her partner's continual criticisms, threats, coercive control, and isolation that are far more destructive than any physical violence. To survive, Margaret must escape the hold of her house, including the generations of families who lived there before her, and recognize the wise advice of her few remaining friends. - Joan Zorza, editor of the Domestic Violence Newsletter, and over 200 books and articles
I read the whole book in two nights - couldn't put it down! I was amazed at the minute details of small matters concerning fields, flowers, stone walls, animals, etc. that immensely helped to put the reader in that agrarian location of the past and present. Deborah Gould did a marvelous job. I felt a genuine sense of relief at the conclusion. - R.C., Portland, ME.
The book is lovely, lyrical. Household is well worth a read. - Gina Hamilton, The New Maine Times, 18 May 2011
[We] read Household aloud and very slowly. We could feel the emotion, suspense, confusion so clearly that we just had to stop, over and over again. Each encounter with Lee had us pouring out our own memories of craziness in relationships gone awry. Crazy as it was, it is real for too many. - L.G., Brunswick, ME.
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