House Lights
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House Lights

3.2 of 5 stars 3.20  ·  rating details  ·  207 ratings  ·  59 reviews
But just as she establishes a precarious foothold in her grandmother's world, Bea's elite Boston home life begins to crumble. Her beloved father is accused of sexual harassment by one of his graduate students; her usually serene, self-certain mother shows signs of fallibility. And Bea is falling in love with someone many would consider inappropriate. Powerfully written and...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published July 17th 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published July 9th 2007)
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While in some ways the execution was disappointing and warranted three strars, I ejoyed this book a lot and don't want to be overly harsh.
This is a well crafted and beautifully woven story of an only child, Beatrice, whose parents - both therapists - create a small world for her that is filled with symphonies, gourmet dinners and a sense of elitism. She grows up believing in the image of her superior parents and eventually decides to become an actress, thus making contact with her actress grandm...more
After loving Cohen's novel "The Grief of Others," I immediately picked up this earlier work, and it took my until halfway through to decide that I agreed with the Amazon editorial review that described this book as "overly precious." I skimmed this review before reading this book and desperately wanted to disagree with it. But it fits this book to a tee.

Google [define:precious]: "Affectedly concerned with elegant or refined behavior, language, or manners... cute: obviously contrived to charm"

Nov 26, 2007 Diablevert rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who like buildungsroman set in West Cambridge?
Shelves: recentlyread
I liked this. The main character's house in this book was set in the very neighborhood I grew up in (though I was of the duplexes she could see from her window, and she of the large single family homes with the blue oval historical society plaques out front) and it was a very weird experience, reading something set upon the very blocks you walked on as a kid...I suppose New Yorkers must experience it all the time, but New York feels like it belongs to all the world. West Cambridge doesn't. But t...more
I really liked Cohen's 'Heart, You Bully, You Punk' when I read it a few years ago. In this one I found her prose a bit stilted and unsuited to the character, even when taking into account that the narration is retrospective. The actual story and plot were pretty compelling though, and I plowed through the words just to see what would happen and be revealed--maybe the way a high school student would read Shakespeare in preparation for a quiz? Shouldn't I be reading at this point for language?

I can't say that this one was quite as "tantalizing... captivating... provocative" as Booklist promotes. It took nearly 150 pages to really get into this novel and the whiny tone of the 20 year old protagonist almost left me considering quitting mid-passage, except that I was stuck in a series of airports, attempting to make my way west in a snowstorm (fun, eh?).
Because this book “loosely” fits a play structure, the author attempts "acts" as formatting, but I found myself longing for a chapter...more
Robbins Library
The Fisher-Harts are a unit of three: only daughter Bea, and her doctor-professor parents. They live in Cambridge, and though Bea's grandmother Margaret Fourcey lives just across the river in Boston, Bea rarely sees her, due to a longstanding break between Maggie and her daughter Sarah (Bea's mother). But in the year after high school, Bea seeks out her grandmother, angling for entrance into her salon of theater actors, playwrights, and directors. The following summer changes Bea's understanding...more
The story is about a young woman who grows up in an intensely cerebral household, raised by parents who are both psychotherapists and personally intensely flawed. She escapes into the world of theatre, where her grandmother - a noted actress - reigns supreme.
The story of her personal growth, and her making peace with her own self and her upbringing, is intriguing and rings true. A quiet and lovable book.

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 23, 2012 Judy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who reads for character development and beautiful prose
Such a beautifully written story! Beatrice, 19 years old at the beginning of the book, has dreams of being an actress. Her grandmother, from whom hew own mother has long been estranged, is a legendary actress. Beatrice develops a relationship with her grandmother and becomes a part of her inner circle of new and experienced people who are actors or directors. At the same time, over that year and the next year, Beatrice's relationship with her parents is torn apart by allegations of her father's...more
Engaging, complex characters with intricate webs between them that should make for an excellent story, but not worth the read. Such a disappointing ending! ANother goodreads review caught one problem - the first person does all the analysis of who does what and why, nothing to figure out really. A classic case of tells and shows, but the telling gets dry an dull. Being told why people do what they do is not nearly as interesting as figuring out what you have been shown. The last section of the b...more
House Lights is all about family relationships that are fouled-up, messed around and impossible to manage. No happy ending – but a real ending. Relationships are not magically healed. Problems are not resolved but faced and accepted. The resolution is that this family learns to live with the inevitable failures and disappointments with themselves and others. It isn’t at all peaceable or fantastic. It is simply that healing can happen and people can live with regrets, pain and sadness and go on w...more
The world in which Beatrice grows up is quite controlled. Her parents are psychologists and intent on making the correct appearance to the outside world. As a result of this, this book feels proper, upright, classy. Interestingly, Beatrice wants to be an actress. She reaches out to her estranged grandmother for help in getting into the acting world. Along Beatrice's path, she finds a reoccurring question: Is acting best in portraying truth, or in the telling of a lie?

I found the language of the...more
Bea's life in Cambridge begins to unravel, when she discovers her father has been indiscreet with someone he is mentoring. Around the same time she reunites with a grandmother, long estranged from her mother. Bea's ambition is to act, as her grandmother did. Over the next months, she begins attending salons in her grandmother's house, and discovers fascinating people. Her relationship with her parents continues to deteriorate. Bea is twenty and finds a man 28 years her senior very attractive who...more
This novel traces the relationship between a young aspiring actress and her grandmother, who had been a famous actress in her day. The novel concentrates on the two women and their relationship with the mother/daughter who is the bridge between them. The book is a decent coming of age novel, but I think it tries to cover too much ground in too few pages. It seems to skip around a lot. I also enjoyed the beginning, when the author was setting up the story, much more than the end, because I felt t...more
Michael Jenkins
Beatrice is an actress that is not supported by her love ones,besides her grandmother that wants her go after her dreams. Her dad is accused of sexual harrasment and she falls in love with such an older man, that can cause her problems in the near future. This book disappointed me, the characters were developed, but I did not enjoy this better than The Grief of Others, the pacing was slow and the ending was weak.
I had a hard time rating this book. I definitely enjoyed the book and was into the storyline, however, the writing style really put me off. Instead of being "show don't tell" it was definitely more telling than showing. Most of the book is a flashback, and there are even flashbacks within the flashbacks. But these felt more like "background" than part of the story. I felt like there was a huge distance between me and the story and I was never fully engaged with the characters and what was happen...more
I think the world of Leah Hager Cohen, particularly of her first book, Train Go Sorry. So I was eager for HOUSE and was surprised to find how formal the prose felt, how explanatory versus suggestive or evocative. This was a difficult book to write, no doubt, and there is clearly so much thought behind this story of a young woman who finds her way in the world of theater as her parents' lives begin to fall apart. But I did wish that there was more surprise in structure and language than I found h...more
from Bas Bleu catalog
A growing up story, full of discovering family secrets. I loved the theater background to it all--and her grandmother was a fascinating character.
Overall, I was very lukewarm about it--at times, Beatrice is incredibly annoying. Her first-person voice got very annoying at times, especially since it was written as if she was looking back on one pivotal summer. So she didn't sound like she was 20 even as she was acting as if she was 20, which was almost jarring.
Cliffside Park Public Library (NJ)
Mostly good, though not sure if some of my problems were me or the writing. I liked the story a lot, the issues it dealt with and the characters for the most part, just didn't connect to the narrator, she felt bland, almost robotic. The emotional connection was not there. I would have liked to know a bit more about the grandmother and didn't quite get some of the decisions the BeBe made, she seemed stuck at 19 her whole life, and I'm not sure she really lived the life she wanted to.
The writing style was lovely, and I liked the premise, but the narration was a little off. The narrator described her parents in these multi-layered ways (like "now that I'm older I realize that my mother's actions were really...") that both messed up the telling-to-showing balance and also prevented us from really getting inside the young protagonist's head as her perception of her parents shifted. I found the narrator hard to picture yet annoying, and her romance was implausible.
Rachel Schoenberger
This was an interesting book. I particularly liked it because it was set in the Boston area and it was familar to me. The authoer did a good job with depth of character, each character can truly be analyzed and considered. I found it to be a pretty quick read and it made me want to read more as I turned the page. The intricate web of family life and baggage and drama was explored and contrasted...the only disappointment, to me, was not knowing more when the book ended.
I am always partial to novels that take place in and around Boston so right away I was predisposed to like this book.

Seriously though, it's a very well written family story about an only child who becomes estranged from her parents and pursues a life very different from the one they imagined for her. In some ways, she seems to repeat or at least shadow, their mistakes, but with just the right amount of psychological awareness on her part - to make it believable.
Oct 29, 2008 Adrian rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: my friend Patricia who worked for the Rep
I'm suprised this has such a low rating - I found it a wonderful read. The main character definately lives too much in her head, but hey - I can relate! One of the things I found unexpected is my ambivolence about her father, and especially her mother's strong support of him, Part of me was very behind her rejection of her father and part of me (as a wife of many years) was sympathetic to her mother's position. It is a very urbane sort of story.
I liked this, though the self-absorbed main character, Beatrice, began to get on my nerves after a while. I especially liked the way Bea analyzed her actions, using a paradigm provided by her parents. (Folks who are more familiar with psychotherapy and counseling would get even more out of it.) Leah Cohen has a fine touch with words. I enjoyed the salon scenes and the play rehearsals, both. Something different. And, totally worth skipping a nap to finish.
Cayt O'Neal
Cohen has such a gentle, supremely elegant style that she never fails to charm me, no matter what the subject matter. This was a nice, smooth piece of fiction that provided earth-shattering insight exactly when I needed it, right in the midst of a soft, steady stream of prose. Though this main character was not my favorite of hers, I loved the rest of the characters and the world Cohen crafted in this story. If you have not read her, please do!
Just finished this book in three days. I was ravenous to read it and the whole time I was reading it, I carted it around with me everywhere. The story is intellectual and yet the voice endearing and perceptive. My favorite line in the book was:

"Then he'd say something full of the sound of turning pages, the odor of chalk dust..."

Leah Hager Cohen's voice and gift for detail is beautiful.
Coming-of-age story of 20 yr old Beatrice (BeBe as her parents call her) and her attempts at growing up, becoming her own person, and how family secrets/issues not discussed leads to more issues. Not sure I liked Beatrice, there was an emotional distance, don't know if it was the writing, the character or me. Parts were very good and interesting and other parts just felt like reporting.
Not as raw as The Grief of Others but still a funny, painful, intimate look at family and love and the way we present ourselves. I preferred Bea's younger voice to her middle-aged observations but appreciated how she wrangled with her self and her parents in both stages of her life.
Sydney Young
This book gave me a headache. How do you write so much about what a family doesn't say to each other? I hung in there thinking it would finally all come out in the wash, but no. Seriously disappointed. I picked this from the Bas Bleu catalog, and they usually don't lead me so astray.
I think this story was beautifully written and was filled with surprises if you don't mind a little pain (family secrets, the complexities of mother-and-daughter relationships, and an ending that seemed unending). Some really neat insights into a world of theater, too...
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Leah Hager Cohen has written four non-fiction books, including Train Go Sorry and Glass, Paper, Beans, and four novels, including House Lights and The Grief of Others.

She serves as the Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters at the College of the Holy Cross, and teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Tim...more
More about Leah Hager Cohen...
The Grief of Others Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World No Book but the World Heart, You Bully, You Punk I Don't Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn't)

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“Brant had said my embellishing constituted a disservice to history and its players. But I believed the opposite. Marooning them on the forlorn island of Only What We Know, a place whose boundaries were determined by the scant information provided by a handful of surviving documents, seemed the greater disservice. I paid homage with my imagination, and hoped I might get visitors to do the same.” 1 likes
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