Grady's Reviews > The House Enters the Street

The House Enters the Street by Gretchen Henderson
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Sep 04, 2012

it was amazing

A Monumental Fusion of the Arts

Gretchen E. Henderson is a staggeringly gifted writer/thinker/visionary/healer and poet and so many other descriptors that escape the mind. What she has created in this at once turgid and delicately airborne novel defies organized plaudits. She simply has accomplished that sort of magic that comes along so rarely that when it happens it needs to be nurtured by a patient, receptive audience. It grows and transforms the spirit like few other works of written art can match.

Perhaps knowing a bit about Henderson will add to the credibility of the kudos that are bound to be heaped on this novel. She has exposed her mind, and processed information from, to the apparently disparate fields of literature, art history, music, museum studies, disability studies, visual art in all its forms, and somehow she manages to stir these components together and create not a book but an experience about people and how they perceive life and projected fantasy. The name of her book, THE HOUSE ENTERS THE STREET, in many ways sets the tone of the novel. It is a play on words of a 1911 painting by Italian futurist painter Umberto Boccioni -LA STRADA ENTRA NELLA CASA, or THE STREET ENTERS THE HOUSE, `a painting that centers around a woman on a balcony in front of a busy street, with the sounds of the activity below portrayed as a riot of shapes and colors. It presents a comprehensive synthesis of all the impressions the woman who is at the center of the painting can experience when looking out her window, including not only the buildings she sees in front of her, but also those she knows to be beside and behind her.' The painting is reproduced on book's cover. This chaotic explosion of color and activity mirrors the process in which this book is written - art mirrors life/life mirrors art.

There are several stories that dance through the pages of Henderson's book. A woman named Avra is disabled from a tragic fire that ended the lives of her parents and left her with a near useless hand. Gradually we meet her grandmother and follow this relationship through transformations while at the same time we learn of a Midwestern lad Faar who goes to Scandinavia to marry Mor and together they birth triplets Eva, Una and Holde but Holde dies and the triplets become twins and that event begins a journey through time and immigration and morphing that introduces all manner of the permutations of change. `New sights were like that. They introduced contrasts and definitions. They distinguished wonders: awe from horror, grief from joy.'

At first the reader my struggle with the non-linear aspect of the story lines but that seems to be the intention of the author. Life as influences by visuals, music, walking through museums, plays, flights of words that spin illusions away form reality but in essence describe it more completely - this seems to be Henderson's goal. Once each of the characters we meet in this series of interweaving stories comes into focus, that is when Henderson jumps up with word play that is devastatingly beautiful. Example: `She's going home. Not straight away, crow dart-of-a-black-arrow going home, but a curvaceous loopy, roundabout, colorful waving (good-bye, hello, good-) course of going home, not by plane, train, coach or car, but by foot through labyrinthine halls and echoing galleries, where marble athletes lack legs, hands, noses (breathing); floor-to-ceiling canvases, blue nudes & strung guitars, head-dressed gazelles with locked horns, bearded earflaps, iron mudfish in pendant masks (breathing). Like a whorled conch, murmuring: voyeurs whisper, stare and bend to listen (knees crack, she hears, shuffling and Look!) to incisions and scars - what doesn't speak is broken (between each line & curve) echoes:'

This is the magic of THE HOUSE ENTERS THE STREET - the language and the way it is shaped and molded and caressed and blocked and offered at times in direct relating of interesting tales and at other times acting like a jazz riff or an extemporaneous series of variations on a theme. Henderson requires much of her reader, but the investment is edifying and begs for re-entry time and again to gain more from the experience. A stunning achievement.

Grady Harp
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