Title: The House of Sand and Fog
Author: Andre Dubus III
The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III is an odd book. It’s the story of three people in a legal dispute over a house, which in theory is a straightforward enough topic, possibly something for an episode of the popular (And fantastic) “Judge Judy.” But one should never underestimate a vaguely insane writer.
The book centers around three characters: Kathy Nicolo, the original owner of the house in question; Colonel Massoud Behrani, a man who was exiled along his family during the Iranian Revolution; and Officer Lester V. Burdon, the man who has come to fall in love with the emotionally unstable Kathy.
The story opens with Colonel Behrani, working a menial job cleaning trash along the side of the road, with frustration and longing festering in his heart. He desperately wishes to have more for his family, and success in America despite the shadow of his past. We then meet Kathy Nicolo, whose already dysfunctional life took a more drastic turn when her husband decided to walk out on her and the house her father left her incorrectly put up for state auction, and Kathy is forcibly evicted. One of the officers sent to evict her is Lester Burdon. Lester instantly falls in love with her, partly because of the loveless marriage that he has remained faithful to for the sake of his children.
Unfortunately, sensing opportunity, Colonel Behrani decides to buy Kathy’s house on short sale with the intent to sell it for three times the amount he paid. Obviously, Kathy wants her house back, and her new lover, Lester, will do anything to help her.
As I read this book, I was struck by how deceptively raw it was. It delved into the depth of dark thoughts and intimate sexual relations very, very…casually. It’s quite hard to describe, but in some books with explicit content, it’s almost as if the writer is getting some secret thrill out of describing their encounters. Andre Dubus doesn’t seem to partake in such decadence. Instead, he uses sex as a means to describe the actual feelings of his characters, and I feel that is to be appreciated.
The writing of this novel is crisp, clean, and fitting, and tells the story how it deserves to be told. That’s not to say it was straightforward, however. The writer used a combination of first and third person styles, which isn’t crazy on its own, but it’s used unexpectedly in the last half of the book. Personally that shift, even if it was only for one character, was almost as surprising as the actual plot twists.
The pacing of the book is, in my opinion, the most effective piece. The ending is so tense that I nearly threw the book across the room in a frustrated rage. But when that tension was released…well, all the frustration was worth it. I do think it’s worth it to point out that after that large burst of emotion and craziness, the last fifteen or so pages of the book feel slow and rather dry.
All in all, The House of Sand Fog is a worthy read, and belongs on our shelf. Plus, Oprah endorsed it, so what else do you really need to know?
Dialogue: The dialogue was well written and tactful, providing enough interaction between the characters, and also leaving room for strong internal thoughts 10/10
Pacing: The pace is very well done. While I was a little frustrated in the end, it was obviously done in order to bring the reader in farther, and strange as It may sound, the pain was needed. However the pages after that were a little flat. 9.8/10
Plot: The plot is fantastic and managed to keep me hooked. It answers all the questions it should, while raising all the questions one secretly wishes it wouldn’t–all for the better. 10/10