The Houseguest

Agnes Rossi, Author Dutton Books $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-94365-5
Based loosely on pivotal events in the life of author Rossi's mother, this tale of loss, displacement and new beginnings is set in 1930s Ireland and Paterson, N.J. The novel opens with a tragic scene in Ireland: young Maura learns that her mother has died of tuberculosis, and that her father is leaving her with Irish relatives who don't want her, while he returns to America, where Maura grew up. Edward Devlin, shattered ex-revolutionary, deposits his daughter in the care of two ill-tempered aunts, Sadie and Bell, and settles into Paterson, hoping that an old acquaintance, ""Fitz"" Fitzgibbon, can help him find work in a woefully depressed economy. Fitz, now a silk tycoon and local celebrity, finds an engineering job for Edward, and invites him to live in the home he shares with his young wife, Sylvia. Edward ends up staying with the Fitzgibbons for nearly a year, moving into his own apartment only after he has an affair with Sylvia. Back in Ireland, Maura is sent to a strict Catholic boarding school where she is allowed to speak only Irish. Rossi interpolates updates on Maura's world into the larger drama of Edward's relations with the Fitzgibbons, as all of their lives head for a drastic change. Despite Rossi's (Split Skirt; The Quick) skillful prose and heartrending plot, this is a surprisingly dispassionate tale, with the cast of characters kept at arm's distance even as their flaws and hopes are rendered with painstaking care. Edward's mostly selfish actions alternate with his hazy regrets and a grief made even more vague with drink; and Maura's chilly ambivalence seems fitting, as she's living in limbo, hoping to be reunited with her father. The main characters' desperate hearts are all the more melancholy for their detachment. The author's decision to tell this story with such uneasy restraint makes for challenging, unsentimental reading. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/03/2000
Release date: 01/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 294 pages - 978-0-452-28197-4
Hardcover - 550 pages - 978-0-7862-2547-7
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