The Books of My Numberless Dreams

I’m not the only one

Posted on: January 16, 2007

“I’m not the only one saw you with your tongue down your daughter’s throat.”

That’s quite a line and this is quite a book. Specifically House Rules by Heather Lewis, the first recommended reading from the Underrated Writers 2006 project. I quoted that line to shock and horrify you, to provoke a similar, if diminished, reaction to what I had having just read it. Lewis doesn’t write to shock, or horrify in any kind of manipulative sense. She doesn’t have any socially valuable morals to pass on to us. There’s no agenda here.

Agenda has become a loaded word as of late but I’m not using it negatively. Many authors write what they and we consider to be morally reprehensible, socially harmful circumstances with the purpose of reflecting this horror. Heather Lewis doesn’t write like that IMO. This story feels like…it needed to be told with no other strings or taints or tones. She simply gave it her best creative effort and then pushed it out into the world.

I am very grateful because sex plays a dominant role in this novel, specifically Lee’s sexual experience, attitude and character. She’s the 15 year old protagonist of this novel, a growing force in equestrian circles. You mostly read of her in this environment because she and stable, institutionalised schooling don’t complement each other very well and as for her home life, well, you gained a glimpse into that already. The story is written in the first person which amplifies Lee: places all her confusion, desires, anxieties, fears and needs bare on the pages. She is this troubling, hopelessly entangled mix of blasé maturity and teenage ignorance, alert and wary with the people around her, constantly trying to figure out their current emotions and mental position, mostly in relation to her, in order to maintain her spot of survival in the world. Trying to find someone with whom she can be relatively safe. It’s infuriating, enthralling and my heart is breaking a little bit at a time.

I got sidetracked. I’m grateful for the lack of agenda in this novel because sex is such a tirelessly manipulated subject in every medium. On top of that few people seem able to approach a novel with noticeable amounts of sex without immediately getting defensive and condescending. The author should stick to more “important” subject matter; clearly she is only spending time on this because she wants to get attention. And all that intellectually barren nonsense. (Yes the two attitudes are tied but if a mere 20-something can get past the first issue why can’t everyone else? God knows issues like romance, child abuse, racism, love, religion, war etc. have been endlessly covered and I don’t hear anyone sighing dismissively at the latest wartime novel or Holocaust memoir. We need to get past this “Omg, like, sex!” attitude.)

This sort of thing is especially peevish when I see a novel that incorporates sex into the narrative so well. Excellent thematic treatment aside, each sex scene is necessary and is integral into plot and character develop. There’s never a wasted line and, for me, the scenes were both erotic and brutally disturbing. My stomach stirs uncomfortably every time I pick up House Rules.

I take a break ever so often with the Vintage Nabokov. So far the stories have dealt with various types of imprisonment the various wardens being grief, frustrated aspirations and…the third I’m not so sure of. I have this hazy grasp of “Russian Spoken Here” being some ironic political commentary on the Bolsheviks after Stalin came to power but I’m a bit hazy on the details of that period and, wont to second-guess myself, I’ll dig about a bit more before I say for sure. My favourite so far is “The Aurelian” because Pilgram, the protagonist, is an attractive mixture of curmudgeon selfishness and whimsy. He made such a clear impression on me.

7 Responses to "I’m not the only one"

I couldn’t resist and went to read an excerpt…so now I’ll probably have to go find a copy somewhere. I like how the book is written even if sometimes I worry about 1st person narration. It really has to fly off the page to get me interested. I like books that make us ask difficult questions – Thanks for posting about such a provocative book.

Ah, Heather Lewis. I read “Notice” a couple of years back. Her writing is so haunting it’s almost hard to bear, yet it’s so powerful you are sucked in and you can’t look away. I’ve set down “House Rules” to be read this year. It’s a pity, that she did not manage to find a wider audience when she was alive.

Another blogger recommended House Rules to me, and now I’m really interested…

You’re welcome verbivore. I do hope you like it–I think Lewis carried off the first-person really well here. Makes everything far more immediate and disturbing.

Dark Orpheus it is a shame, especially since her death was apparently given little notice even inside the publishing community. Luckily Serpent’s Tail is still carrying her stuff. I’ll get Notice but it will take a while for me to read it. I need the break.

Dorothy yay! We know best Dorothy: Buy the book. Buuuuuuuy the book. 😉

Hey Imani,
I have added this page to my Heather Lewis site… if you don’t mind.
And for everyone else who is interested:

Keep Heather’s work alive! 🙂

I don’t mind at all. Thanks for letting me know and for considering it good enough for your site. If you’re interested I also wrote a more formal review of the text here:

I had already posted that one a little while ago, but didn’t get around to leaving thank you notes yet…*makes an angel face*
Thank you for sharing your views on Heather’s work, it’s greatly appreciated. 😉
I only started the website because I felt people need to be able to learn about her novels, if they choose to. If you have any more info, feel free to let me know.

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