“A House Among the Trees” is a story of the fictional Morty Lear. Morty Lear is a famous author of children’s stories, best known perhaps for his novel “Colorquake”. Colorquake is a story about Ivo, whose “mother kept a perfect house, a house among the trees.” Ivo is “utterly beguiling”, an artist, a painter of fantastic creatures, all of which come alive off the page. Everyone loves Ivo and Morty Lear is renowned. By the way, Morty Lear is not his real name–try Mordecai Levy.
The thing is, when we meet him, Morty is dead, having fallen off the roof of his house in the trees (Connecticut) trying to remove a limb. And all sorts of things are happening. Morty’s assistant, Tomasina (Tommy) Daulair has been with Morty (and for a while Morty and his lover Soren) for more than 25 years, in Morty’s house among the trees in Connecticut. Tommy has a difficult relationship with her brother, Danilo ( Dani), who as it so happens was the inspiration for Ivo and is just perfectly resentful about Ivo’s wild success; not to mention that Dani is, of course, a failure at virtually everything he does.
Before he died, Morty had agreed to have a movie made about his life. The famous (and very handsome) young actor, Nicholas (Nick) Greene, has agreed to play Morty. Nick has made some arrangements to spend time with Morty in his house and, with Tommy’s approval, spends a few days and nights at the house despite Morty’s death.
While alive, Morty had nurtured an engaging, although obviously platonic, relationship with Meredith Galarza (Merry–nobody’s name is their name), a museum curator , leading her to believe that her museum would receive most of Morty’s collection. But alas, such was not to be, as his collection was directed into Tommy’s hands, to be sold off to establish a halfway house for runaway boys. Ugh!
So Nick visits the house in the trees, the paparazzi shows up and oh by the way, Dani and Merry somehow connect and they show up too. All is well in the end.
I am a Julia Glass fan. I loved “Three Junes”. But there is simply too much going on in this book. Glass can’t seem to decide if she wants to write about loss (Morty, family), regret (Tommy spending 25 years of her life with Morty), family dysfunction (lots of that here), the competitive world of art, or the cynicism of fundraisers and their very disdain for the donors (“Merry’s primary task is to condense and focus all her verve and vigor on anyone who might become a benefactor. She becomes a heat seeking laser… Sadly, the artists are all beside the point…”). Or perhaps Glass wanted to focus on gay rights and AIDS issues, feminism and antifeminism (“it seems she can never quite shake off the instinctive relief she feels when a male authority gives her the sign of professional approval.” Ugh again!). Perhaps Glass wanted us to understand the loneliness of celebrity (“All celebrity does is arrange and spotlight your foibles as if they were mannequins in a shopwindow, tart them up for all to see” ). As a result of addressing so many issues, the characters seemed to me to be unsympathetic and unlikeable, and the book seemed cold and forced.
Oh, one more thing, the book actually seems to be inspired by Maurice Sendak and his book “Where the Wild Things Are.” All that said, if you are a Julia Glass fan you will probably want to read this book anyway. You can reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11278560__Sa%20house%20among%20the%20trees__P0%2C4__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold