House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
Published by: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Published on: February 1999
Page Count: 368
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Reading Format: Audiobook purchased through Audible.com with a credit
Audiobook Published by: Harper Audio
Narrator: Andre Dubus III and Fontaine Dollas Dubus
Audiobook Length: 13 hours 53 minutes
Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, eBook and audiobook
Kathy Nicolo, a former drug addict who was recently left by her husband, had been receiving letters from the county requesting back taxes for a home-based business. Kathy never owned a home-based business, so after informing the county in writing, she does not follow up further. She regrets throwing the letters from the county away when she is awoken by local authorities who begin to evict her. She is angry but soon realizes that she has no immediate recourse but to leave and contact a lawyer, something she cannot afford on her own. Meanwhile, Massoud Behrani, a former Iranian military official who exiled to America during the Iranian Revolution, is tired of living two lives. In order to arrange for a good marriage for his oldest daughter, he and his family had to live well above their means. They could afford to do so because they left Iran with a great deal of money, but after so many years, the money is running out and the only jobs he has been able to find in San Francisco are menial. He is forced to change back into respectable clothes at the end of his work day in order to keep up appearances in his apartment complex. Finally, with his daughter on her honeymoon, he feels able to act upon a plan to make a new life for himself, his wife and his son. His plan is to buy property that has been repossessed by the government at auction and sell it for a profit. His first purchase is the home vacated by Kathy Nicolo.
House of Sand and Fog is populated with flawed characters. Although Kathy Nicolo and Massoud Behrani come from such different worlds, they share a few things in common. They both have no locally whom they can rely on for help. Kathy has put her family in Boston threw so much, she can’t bare to let them find out that her marriage failed, let alone that she allowed the home left to her and her brother by their father to be repossessed because she ignored communication from the government. She has no choice but to fight to get her house back alone. Behrani is also a man alone. He has his wife and children, but their success and safety are his alone. He loved his life back in Tehran, but because of his military involvement, they cannot return. Most of all, both characters are stubborn in their sense of entitlement. Kathy realizes that her inaction cost her the house, but she refuses to take responsibility for the county’s error. When the county can’t make right their error, she continues to refuse to work through the legal process, going straight to Behrani herself. She even gets her new boyfriend involved. For his part, Behrani holds tight to the letter of the law refusing to work with the county or with Kathy. He almost gets off on shouldering the complete burden for his family on his own. Kathy’s ease with which she plays the victim and Behrani’s out right refusal to be victimized leads all involved straight to hell.
I have wanted to read this novel for at least 10 years. Andre Dubus III has long had this aura surrounding him that both excited and intimidated me in equal parts. It wasn’t until I read this memoir, Townie, that I decided now is the time. Dubus again narrates along with his wife, Fontaine Dollas Dubus, who reads the sections written from Karen’s point of view. For someone who loves what a talented professional audiobook narrator brings to an audiobook, I might not have given this novel a chance in audio had it not been for my previous experience with Townie. Dubus has a quality to his reading that simply works well with the material he writes. Fontaine Dollas Dubus worked equally well as the voice of Kathy Nicolo. Kathy is not a polished person and her personal unabashed reading made her come alive for me.
House of Sand and Fog was well worth the wait, although I never should have waited so long. Dubus is a wonderful author. His work is dark and brooding, certainly not something to pick up when feeling lonely or on a rainy day. Dubus is unafraid to lay bare all there is to see about his subjects. His characters aren’t written to be loved or even liked. They are written to be real. Prepare to be both moved and prodded in those tender places you would rather forget existed. The journey is well worth it.