Review: The Household Spirit by Tod Wodicka

I received an advanced review copy of this title from the publisher through Edelweiss.

My Review:
The Household SpiritI finished reading this book last week and I kept thinking about what to write for my review.  On the one hand I absolutely loved the characters in this book, but on the other hand the ending was disappointing.  But I think in the end it is a worthwhile book to read because of the strong characters and relationships that are developed throughout the course of the novel.

Howie Jeffries has been living in the same house in rural upstate New York for thirty years.  After a few years of marriage, Howie’s wife moved out with their young daughter and so Howie has been living in his house alone for most of those thirty years.  He is a very shy and unassuming man and his shyness has been such a hindrance to him that it keeps him from making friends with his only neighbors, the Phanes.  Even though he has lived next to Mr. Phane and his granddaughter, Emily, for thirty years, he cannot bring himself to say anything more to them than a cursory greeting.  Howie’s life is mostly occupied with his job at GE and his favorite hobby, fishing.

Howie is also very kind and loving to his only daughter, Harri, with whom he only gets to visit once in a while.  His favorite thing to do with her is to take her to the mall and to dinner at an Italian restaurant.  When Harri calls him in the middle of the night to pick her up on the roadside, he does so without judgment or very many questions.  Howie is also not bitter towards his ex-wife, whom he understands did not want to spend her life living quietly on rural Route 29.

Emily is Howie’s neighbor and the occupant of the only other house on Route 29.  Emily’s mother and grandmother die when she is an infant, so Emily is raised by her elderly grandfather.  The relationship between Emily and her grandfather is very sweet as they are they only two people in the world for each other.  The book also highlights a serious issue that is not oftentimes spoken about, that of night terrors and sleep paralysis.   Throughout her childhood and early teen years, Emily wakes up every night with horrifying night terrors.  When she is in middle school, she goes to a sleepover at a friend’s house and has to go home in the middle of the night because she has one of her episodes.   As Emily grows older her night terrors fade but they are replaced by sleep paralysis, a very scary condition which I did not know existed until I read this book.

When Emily’s grandfather has a stroke, Emily comes home from college to take care of him.  Once her grandfather passes away, she is left alone in the house and develops agoraphobia and only comes out of her house at night.  Emily and Howie are aware of each other’s existence, but their individual neuroses keep them from connecting. One day Emily accidentally causes a small chimney fire in her house and Howie finds her passed out on her front lawn.  Howie has to overcome his social anxiety to carry her over to his house and take care of her.  When Emily wakes up on Howie’s sofa, she is a little freaked out at being inside Howie’s house but she eventually decides that she likes not being alone for once.  The best part of the book is the development of Emily and Howie’s relationship and how they come not only to rely on each other for comfort but also to help each other overcome their anxieties;  Emily encourages Howie to go on a date with a woman he has been friends with for years and Howie is soothing to Emily when she has her sleep episodes.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I thought that the ending of the book was rather unsatisfactory.  It felt rushed and incomplete.  The worst part about it was that in the end once Howie and Emily help each other they move on with their lives and no longer have contact with one another.  This felt very disappointing, especially since so much time in the novel was spend on developing their very special and unique relationship.

What books have you read that you have enjoyed but felt let down by the ending?


About The Author:
WodickaTod Wodicka lives in Berlin. His second novel, THE HOUSEHOLD SPIRIT was published by Pantheon and Jonathan Cape in June 2015.

His first novel, ALL SHALL BE WELL; AND ALL SHALL BE WELL; AND ALL MANNER OF THINGS SHALL BE WELL has been translated into Spanish, Dutch and German. It was shortlisted for The Believer Book Award. Wodicka’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, Granta, Amuse, Tank Magazine, South as a State of Mind, the National, Art Papers, AnOther Magazine and the New Statesman.


Filed under Literary Fiction

5 responses to “Review: The Household Spirit by Tod Wodicka

  1. Behind the Story

    Beginnings and endings are so hard.


  2. What an interesting review Melissa – I usually like it when a book toys with my expectation but not if it leaves you feeling duped or as you say disappointed… Guess it’s a test amount to the characterisation that it mattered.

    Can’t think of any book off the top of my head but do strongly remember the movie adaptation of Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper where they changed the end completely (against Picoult’s advice) and I threw a hissy fit in the cinema… saw an interview with her last year and she obviously felt the same 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Many Canadian novels have left me sadly disappointed because they try too hard to resolve the story with a moral message. I prefer things to be a little more open, I like to be unsettled. I don’t mean a harshly inappropriate and tragic ending, but life does not always end neatly, and heroes and villains are not always black and white. I like a measure of moral ambiguity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you are absolutely correct and your comment applies to this novel. These two individuals were dealing with life-long mental heath issues and then after spending a couple of months together, bam, they are instantly better. And they don’t talk to each other any more. Very unsatisfying!

      Liked by 1 person

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