Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels
Published by: Touchstone
Published on: March 1, 2011
Page Count: 336
Genre: Women’s Fiction
My Reading Format: Audiobook sent to me by the publisher for review
Audiobook Published by: Blackstone Audio
Narrator: Bernadette Dunne
Audiobook Length: 9 hours
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
39-year-old Barb Barrett is in a pickle. She left her husband after he told her how to load the dishwasher one too many times. When she walked out the door, she took her two young children with her. Without financial resources or a plan for creating a stable life, they camped out in the woods without sending word to “the ex-person” until she was picked up by the local police and charged with kidnapping. Not surprisingly, she lost custody of her children and was relegated to mothering them one day per week. She misses her children and feels incomplete without them. She knows that living in a motel isn’t going to make that happen, so once again she acts on impulse and purchases a small home that was once occupied by Vladimir Nabokov. This snap decision sets in motion a quirky chain of events that test Barb’s ingenuity, endurance and faith in herself and her future.
There was one aspect of the novel that was make or break for me. It was brought out in the very first paragraph:
I knew I could stay in this town when I found the blue enamel pot floating in the lake. The pot led me to the house, the house led me to the book, the book to the lawyer, the lawyer to the whorehouse, the whorehouse to science, and from science I joined the world.
I replayed that first paragraph a second time to make sure that I had, indeed, heard the word whorehouse twice. At that time, I mentally made a note that this book just might not work. I then set that thought aside and let the story progress. After all, I hadn’t made it to the house yet. I hoped that by the time the whorehouse came into the light it would all make sense. I cannot say that there weren’t many moments while that arc of the story was developing that I didn’t say, “Barb, what in the heck are you doing? You want your kids to live with you, right?” That doesn’t mean that it didn’t work for me. When I’m in a tight spot, my imagination doesn’t jump to prostitution, but I don’t read to meet characters who would do what I do. What I saw in this situation was the way in which losing everything freed Barb to revel in her inner wackiness and capitalize on her desire to do absolutely anything to get her kids back. I recognize that some listeners might be turned off by this part of the story, but once I let myself go with Barb, I enjoyed her time with the cat house.
Barb Barrett is one of my favorite characters in recent women’s fiction. I instantly related to her as we are both so close to 40 we can touch it, we both moved from bigger cities to the small towns where our husbands grew up, and have husbands who are very particular about how a dishwasher is loaded. Most of all, her inner dialog is full of a delightful snark that reminded me so much of those thoughts I have that never let see the light of day. That she called her ex-husband “the ex-person” was a delight and said so much about her personality. Anyone who can own the way she lost custody of her children the way that she did with humor and honesty deserves her own book.
I am so very glad that I read this book in audio format. Bernadette Dunne was the perfect narrator for Barb. Her voice, her tone and her spirit brought Barb to life. The only thing about the narration and production that took me time to acclimate to was the way the narrator pronounced Nabokov. The first time I heard her read the title, it jarred me. Even after taking several graduate classes where Nabokov was taught, I don’t recall it being pronounced anyway other than way Sting sings it in “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” Familiarity doesn’t make a pronunciation correct, but it is what I’m used to hearing. So, when Dunne pronounced it Na-boe-kov (the correct pronunciation per the Library of Congress), it caught in my ear. I did a little Google research on the correct pronunciation and Dunne’s seems to be correct, but even the man himself didn’t really say one way or the other when interviewed. The name is mentioned fairly often in the book, but it is truly a minor hiccup along the way. I loved Bernadette Dunne’s narration and hope to have the opportunity to read along with her in another audiobook very soon.
Barb could be my long lost twin or a best friend I’ve never met. As such, I followed her places I thought I’d never go in fiction willingly and happily. I never once regretted the ride. She may not always come out on top, but she’s got the resilient soul of a survivor. She kept me laughing even in her darkest hour. I so enjoyed this character and the larger world of Onkwedo that Leslie Daniels created. It was a great summer read.