House of Sand & Fog by Andre Dubus III
Parts of this book were impressive. In particular, I thought the sections told from the point of view of the Iranian Colonel were excellent. The Colonel isn’t a likable character, but his logic is compelling. Each time the reader turns against him, a nagging voice says, “And yet . . .”
Less impressive to me were the sections told from Kathy Nicolo’s point of view, especially in Part I. While I realize that people make stupid mistakes, some of her choices were so bad as to be incredible. Also, in her voice, the book sometimes descends into bad romance. And Kathy is no more likable that the Colonel, which makes her poor choices less believable.
In Part II of the book, Dubus adds a third point of view. While Kathy’s and the Colonel’s sections are in first person, now we also get sections in the third person from Lester Burdon’s perspective. This is a curious choice, and I do wonder why Dubus chose to distance the reader from Burdon in this way. The reason isn’t clear to me.
The story, as most readers probably know, is a tragedy in which the Colonel, an Iranian immigrant (having fled Tehran after the fall of the Shah) purchases a house at auction to launch his career in real estate. He moves his family–wife and teenage son–into the house while he searches for a buyer. It turns out, though, that the county has seized the house from Kathy Nicolo in error (although she should have known that it was happening because they kept sending her notices that she foolishly threw away). This launches the conflict that is destined to have tragic consequences.
In addition to not finding Kathy Nicolo a credible character, I had a hard time believing that Lester Burdon would throw away his life–his loyal wife and kids–for her.
So, for me, the book is a mixed bag. At times, it is thrilling and stellar. But at times it descends to cheap melodrama.