cover image The House of Hawthorne

The House of Hawthorne

Erika Robuck. NAL, $25.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-451-41891-3

Robuck’s thoroughly engaging latest (after 2014’s Fallen Beauty) imagines the marriage of painter Sophy Peabody to the author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Though not wealthy, Sophy’s family is known in New England’s artistic circles. Through her older sister, Elizabeth, a publisher, she meets introverted Nathaniel and immediately feels a connection. He understands her artistic temperament; Sophy herself is renowned for her art, but creating it causes her to suffer excruciating migraines. The two find themselves in a long courtship, with Nathaniel reluctant to marry Sophy due to financial constraints. Family tensions and money problems continue to plague the couple through their marriage, though their love keeps the relationship afloat. Robuck has a light touch, and despite clocking in at 400 pages, the story flies by. Sophy ultimately sacrifices her artistic career to raise a family and support Nathaniel in his writing. Nathaniel goes on to make his name as an author, taking government jobs along the way that eventually land the family in Europe while America prepares for Civil War. Other prominent names pepper the narrative (Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, et al), as friends of the Hawthornes who influence their lives and work. Robuck’s ending is perplexing given what we know of these characters, and major themes and questions are suddenly dropped and left unanswered, but this is still a charming work. (May)