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Model Home by Eric Puchner
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Aug 15, 10

bookshelves: men-s-fiction, relationships
Read in August, 2010

There are two legitimate reasons to write: 1) You have something to say. 2) You are in the process of thinking, and writing helps make clarity out of chaos. In the first instance you would want, in some way, to publish (make public) what you’ve written. In the second instance you’ll want to keep thoughts private as you work yourself towards understanding. In either case, if you think your thought has value, it is advantageous to have a record of this soul work—your mind’s creative work.

Having read Model Home (2010) by Eric Puchner, a professor of Literature at Claremont MeKenna College, in Southern California, two more reasons occurred to me, not quite so legitimate: 1) You must write and publish because it is part of your job description. 2) You want to have a prestigious answer to the question, “What do you do?” And you think, “I write,” is cool.

My first thoughts when I began reading Model Home were, Puchner was a creative writing teacher and must publish for job security and school recognition; and/or he wrote a novel for screen adaptation, the next Vacation (1983) which was originally a short story published by National Lampoon, and written by John Hughes in 1958 as a fictionalized version of his trip to Disneyland. Model Home seems to be a collection of exaggerated incidents tricked up with clever writing, quirky characters, and near slap-stick comedy, cobbled together into a story. But then the novel turned dark and depressing—so depressing I had to skim much of it.

What this novel really is reason number two of the legitimate—Puchner is trying to figure some things out. In interviews and promos for the book, he said repeatedly: “I didn’t know what the novel was about.” I do. It is about “… a universe of suck,” (pg. 9) a statement from one of his central characters, a teen girl. Here is a major problem: All five members of her family, all major characters, not only share that worldview, but share a personality as well—that of a neurotic introvert; and thus the severe depressive tone of the novel (despite Puchner’s attempts at humor.) The family pet, a dog, is a metaphor for this. The dog is old, listless, and dying. There is nothing more depressing than watching a dog slowly die. Moreover, the characters repeat vignettes. The father does a B & E on his son’s girlfriend’s house. The boyfriend of the daughter does a B & E on his girlfriend’s house. The daughter gets severely burned. The older son gets severely burned. The younger sister of the girlfriend is a copy of the daughter. There is duplication after duplication, of characters and events.

What Puchner is apparently trying to work out is his own understanding of his childhood and a father that was not up to the task of providing for, or loving, his family, and the consequences of that. To that sad story, he joined an incident of an acquaintance being severely burned that stuck with him. The story fails miserably as a reason to write and publish – you have something to say. This novel isn’t about family, or love, or the American dream. It doesn’t have anything to say about those issues – only confusion. It is about a universe that sucks and that is depressing, and inaccurate. This novel is, in short, a work in progress, or, an inane screen play that would probably do well at the box office.

It is not that Puchner can’t compose a readable sentence, or “turn a phrase.” He can. It is just that he is confused. That comes through in the personalities of all the characters and in the story itself. In other words, there is no big idea here, no theme … other than things suck. Maybe that is why the novel has been well received—things suck and most people are confused. But, maybe the causation is backwards. It is not that people are confused because things suck – things suck because people are confused. Model Home adds to the confusion. Writing is a wonderful tool for clarification – the antidote to confusion – it turns chaos into clarity.¬¬



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