cover image The Hundred-Year House

The Hundred-Year House

Rebecca Makkai. Viking, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0525-42668-4

Makkai’s (The Borrower) second novel is a lively and clever story starring an estate with an intricate history. It starts in 1999, with husband and wife Doug and Zee living in the coach house of Zee’s parents’ estate, Laurelfield, which used to be an artists’ colony on Chicago’s wealthy North Shore. Doug is a writer laboring to finish a monograph of poet Edwin Parfitt, a visitor to the colony, while earning money by anonymously writing YA fiction for a book packager. Zee teaches at the local college, scheming to destroy a tenured colleague to make room on the faculty for her husband, but her machinations take an unexpected turn. When Zee’s mother’s second husband allows his son and daughter-in-law to move in to the other apartment in the coach house, the dynamic of the group shifts. Meanwhile Doug discovers a secret about Zee’s family that he can’t share with Zee. The second section of the book goes back in time to the 1950s, when Zee’s mother, Grace, was banished by her family to the mansion with her abusive first husband as punishment for marrying him. In the third section, set in 1929, the owner of the mansion wants to shut it down, and the colonists make plans to stop that from happening—a scheme by the colonists that Doug unwittingly discovers decades later. The book is exceptionally well constructed, with engaging characters busy reinventing themselves throughout, and delightful twists that surprise and satisfy. (July)