The Hundred-Year House: A Novel

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9780143127444: The Hundred-Year House: A Novel

The acclaimed author of The Borrower returns with a dazzlingly original, mordantly witty novel about the secrets of an old-money family and their turn-of-the-century estate, Laurelfield.

“Rebecca Makkai is a writer to watch, as sneakily ambitious as she is unpretentious."
Richard Russo
 
Meet the Devohrs: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents’ wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there’s Violet Devohr, Zee’s great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and whose massive oil portrait still hangs in the dining room.

Violet’s portrait was known to terrify the artists who resided at the house from the 1920s to the 1950s, when it served as the Laurelfield Arts Colony—and this is exactly the period Zee’s husband, Doug, is interested in. An out-of-work academic whose only hope of a future position is securing a book deal, Doug is stalled on his biography of the poet Edwin Parfitt, once in residence at the colony. All he needs to get the book back on track—besides some motivation and self-esteem—is access to the colony records, rotting away in the attic for decades. But when Doug begins to poke around where he shouldn’t, he finds Gracie guards the files with a strange ferocity, raising questions about what she might be hiding. The secrets of the hundred-year house would turn everything Doug and Zee think they know about her family on its head—that is, if they were to ever uncover them.

In this brilliantly conceived, ambitious, and deeply rewarding novel, Rebecca Makkai unfolds a generational saga in reverse, leading the reader back in time on a literary scavenger hunt as we seek to uncover the truth about these strange people and this mysterious house. With intelligence and humor, a daring narrative approach, and a lovingly satirical voice, Rebecca Makkai has crafted an unforgettable novel about family, fate and the incredible surprises life can offer.

For readers of Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle

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About the Author:

Rebecca Makkai is the author of the acclaimed novels The Hundred-Year House and The Borrower, an Indie Next pick, an O, The Oprah Magazine Fall Reading selection, a Booklist Top Ten Debut, and one of Chicago Magazine's choices for best fiction of 2011. Her work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories (2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008), Best American Nonrequired Reading, Harper'sMcSweeney's, Tin HousePloughsharesIowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and New England Review, among others, and has aired on "This American Life." She lives outside Chicago with her husband and two daughters.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 Rebecca Makkai



1



For a ghost story, the tale of Violet Saville Devohr was vague and underwhelming. She had lived, she was unhappy, and she died by her own hand somewhere in that vast house. If the house hadn’t been a mansion, if the death hadn’t been a suicide, if Violet Devohr’s dark, refined beauty hadn’t smoldered down from that massive oil portrait, it wouldn’t have been a ghost story at all. Beauty and wealth, it seems, get you as far in the afterlife as they do here on earth. We can’t all afford to be ghosts.

In April, as they repainted the kitchen of the coach house, Zee told Doug more than she ever had about her years in the big house: how she’d spent her entire, ignorant youth there without feeling haunted in the slightest—until one summer, home from boarding school, when her mother had looked up from her shopping list to say, “You’re pale. You’re not depressed, are you? There’s no reason to succumb to that. You know your great-grandmother killed herself in this house. I understand she was quite self-absorbed.” After that, Zee would listen all night long, like the heroine of one of the gothic novels she loved, to the house creaking on its foundation, to the knocking she’d once been assured was tree branches hitting the windows.

Doug said, “I can’t imagine you superstitious.”

“People change.”

They were painting pale blue over the chipped yellow. They’d pulled the appliances from the wall, covered the floor in plastic. There was a defunct light switch, and there was a place near the refrigerator where the wall had been patched with a big square board years earlier. Both were thick with previous layers of paint, so Doug just painted right on top.

He said, “You realize we’re making the room smaller. Every layer just shrinks the room.” His hair was splattered with blue.

It was one of the moments when Zee remembered to be happy: looking at him, considering what she had. A job and a house and a broad-shouldered man. A glass of white wine in her left hand.

It was a borrowed house, but that was fine. When Zee and Doug first moved back to town two years ago, they’d found a cramped and mildewed apartment above a gourmet deli. On three separate occasions, Zee had received a mild electric shock when she plugged in her hair dryer. And then her mother offered them the coach house last summer and Zee surprised herself by accepting.

She’d only agreed to returned home because she was well beyond her irrational phase. She could measure her adulthood against the child she’d been when she lived here last. As Zee peeled the tape from the window above the sink and looked out at the lights of the big house, she could picture her mother and Bruce in there drinking rum in front of the news, and Sofia grabbing the recycling on her way out, and that horrible dog sprawled on his back. Fifteen years earlier, she’d have looked at those windows and imagined Violet Devohr jostling the curtains with a century of pent-up energy. When the oaks leaned toward the house and plastered their wet leaves to the windows, Zee used to imagine that it wasn’t the rain or wind but Violet, in there still, sucking everything toward her, caught forever in her final, desperate circuit of the hallways.

They finished painting at two in the morning, and they sat in the middle of the floor and ate pizza. Doug said, “Does it feel more like it’s ours now?” And Zee said, “Yes.”

At a department meeting later that same week, Zee reluctantly agreed to take the helm of a popular fall seminar. English 372 (The Spirit in the House: Ghosts in the British and American Traditions) consisted of ghost stories both oral and literary. It wasn’t Zee’s kind of course—she preferred to examine power structures and class struggles and imperialism, not things that go bump in the night—but she wasn’t in a position to say no. Doug would laugh when she told him.

On the bright side, it was the course she wished she could have taken herself, once upon a time. Because if there was a way to kill a ghost story, this was it. What the stake did to the heart of the vampire, literary analysis could surely accomplish for the legend of Violet Devohr.

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. The acclaimed author of The Borrower returns with a dazzlingly original, mordantly witty novel about the secrets of an old-money family and their turn-of-the-century estate, Laurelfield. Rebecca Makkai is a writer to watch, as sneakily ambitious as she is unpretentious. Richard Russo Meet the Devohrs: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there s Violet Devohr, Zee s great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and whose massive oil portrait still hangs in the dining room. Violet s portrait was known to terrify the artists who resided at the house from the 1920s to the 1950s, when it served as the Laurelfield Arts Colony and this is exactly the period Zee s husband, Doug, is interested in. An out-of-work academic whose only hope of a future position is securing a book deal, Doug is stalled on his biography of the poet Edwin Parfitt, once in residence at the colony. All he needs to get the book back on track besides some motivation and self-esteem is access to the colony records, rotting away in the attic for decades. But when Doug begins to poke around where he shouldn t, he finds Gracie guards the files with a strange ferocity, raising questions about what she might be hiding. The secrets of the hundred-year house would turn everything Doug and Zee think they know about her family on its head that is, if they were to ever uncover them. In this brilliantly conceived, ambitious, and deeply rewarding novel, Rebecca Makkai unfolds a generational saga in reverse, leading the reader back in time on a literary scavenger hunt as we seek to uncover the truth about these strange people and this mysterious house. With intelligence and humor, a daring narrative approach, and a lovingly satirical voice, Rebecca Makkai has crafted an unforgettable novel about family, fate and the incredible surprises life can offer. For readers of Dodie Smith sI Capture the Castle. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143127444

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. The acclaimed author of The Borrower returns with a dazzlingly original, mordantly witty novel about the secrets of an old-money family and their turn-of-the-century estate, Laurelfield. Rebecca Makkai is a writer to watch, as sneakily ambitious as she is unpretentious. Richard Russo Meet the Devohrs: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there s Violet Devohr, Zee s great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and whose massive oil portrait still hangs in the dining room. Violet s portrait was known to terrify the artists who resided at the house from the 1920s to the 1950s, when it served as the Laurelfield Arts Colony and this is exactly the period Zee s husband, Doug, is interested in. An out-of-work academic whose only hope of a future position is securing a book deal, Doug is stalled on his biography of the poet Edwin Parfitt, once in residence at the colony. All he needs to get the book back on track besides some motivation and self-esteem is access to the colony records, rotting away in the attic for decades. But when Doug begins to poke around where he shouldn t, he finds Gracie guards the files with a strange ferocity, raising questions about what she might be hiding. The secrets of the hundred-year house would turn everything Doug and Zee think they know about her family on its head that is, if they were to ever uncover them. In this brilliantly conceived, ambitious, and deeply rewarding novel, Rebecca Makkai unfolds a generational saga in reverse, leading the reader back in time on a literary scavenger hunt as we seek to uncover the truth about these strange people and this mysterious house. With intelligence and humor, a daring narrative approach, and a lovingly satirical voice, Rebecca Makkai has crafted an unforgettable novel about family, fate and the incredible surprises life can offer. For readers of Dodie Smith sI Capture the Castle. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143127444

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