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Moving Furniture   Leave a comment

In Great House, Nicole Krauss considers not just how an object is acquir-
ed, but how it is passed on to others. She shows that to bestow and to re-
ceive is not always a welcome, or even happy, occasion.

The novel has multiple characters, but it is really about just one thing: a
desk. Nonetheless, it is transformed from simply being household furniture
to something representing the different traits and lives of its owners. It is
imbued not only with personal histories, but also past world events. In
each of its homes, however, the desk physically overshadows everything
else, so the question that surfaces early on is: why is this particular piece
so important?

I found a lot of similarities between Kraus’s work and Accordion Dreams
by Annie Proulx. Both follow one specific item (in the latter, it’s the title
instrument) and both are haunting. The main difference is that Kraus
shows a connection among the five owners so the result is an amazingly
serendipitous puzzle. Here, Kraus, the author of A History of Love, has
written a fairy tale of sorts. In keeping true to that genre, Great House is
mournful and low on humor.

One problem lies with voice because everyone sounds the same. The pri-
mary distinction among the many narrators is in the descriptions of their
lives, rather than one personality being different from another. It’s the
situation that brings the desk into play and moves the story forward. Ulti-
mately, it’s something inanimate that drives the characters’ experiences.

Great House
Three  Bookmarks
W.W. Norton & Co., 2011
289 pages

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