Friday, September 26, 2014

The Fifteen Houses
By Jeanne Claire Probst
A book review by Ginger Dawn Harman


I purchased this book for myself as a Christmas present. Unfortunately, I was not able to begin reading it as soon as I wanted. Upon first impression, I thought the book would be about the struggles of a young woman finding her way. I was not disappointed. The Fifteen Houses by Jeanne Claire Probst is engaging, heart rending, and has characters that are so plausible that one will believe they are true. The reader feels immediately invited into the personal account by the cover image of a rose tea cup with a lovely view from the window. The soft colors on the cover provide a façade to the disorder and betrayal written inside. The author reveals within the pages haunted memories of Julianne, the main character of the novel. Each chapter digs through the layers of emotional scars, enmeshment with dysfunctional family, and long held secrets that are slowly revealed.


Probst has a gift with the use of rich imagery. The novel begins with children gathering eggs, smells of newly washed laundry on a clothesline, daddy-long-legs sunning themselves near the hollyhocks which are nestled beside a pale yellow house. Yet, what is often on the outside is not what is portrayed within. This theme is continued from the cover to the personal recollections of the narrator. A four-way affair between David, Irene, Gerard and Edith has become a reality for Julianne and the other nine children within the household. Due to the wife swapping, biological identities were askew between the siblings. Sexual/physical abuse, and the further neglect created crippling effects for the children as neighbors, family, and inquisitive strangers began to question the family during the early 1950’s.

 

As Julianne grows from child to young bride, her struggles continue as she must now raise a family often moving from home to campground with no support system. One of the most touching parts for me as I read was when Julianne finds her own passions such as music. Singing with her sisters Aude and Chloe, Julianne was able to, “disquiet the hidden emotions they had.” However, it is when Julianne finds the courage to stand up to Charlie and rediscovery her own self-worth that the reader no longer sympathizes but visualizes her inner strength.

 
I truly enjoyed The Fifteen Houses by Jeanne Claire Probst. I tend to look over spelling and grammar errors but I did find it difficult with some of the redundancy in the writing. For example, “There was a special kind of peace that came over me when I sat there on a bed of needles that had fallen between the rows of pine trees. This bed of needles was so thick and so soft, it dared you to want to lay your head down and rest. It looked as if these pine needles…” This short description does too much telling and is repetitive about the pine needles to the point that I felt like skipping over it. I found this similar with the visit to the duck pond. My only other complaint with the book, is that at the end of several paragraphs, some of them emotional, the author would add little quips such as, “Here we go again,” “Big Surprise,” “Oh Dear,” and “End of Story.” This made me feel as if someone was reading over my shoulder and I felt it very distracting as I read. However, I am an older reader so the younger generation might find this as a way to connect more with the author.
 
I do feel that this book is an above average read and would make a great series comparable to books written by Maeve Binchy. Each further novel could enlighten the reader with characters introduced in this novel that will provide life lessons, personal growth, and discovering your own personal journey. For a first novel, I feel that Jeanne Clair Probst has done a wonderful job. The Fifteen Houses by Jeanne Claire Probst, skillfully weaves personal discovery with fiction, making for a satisfying, poignant, and a recommended read.

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