Review: 'Cleaning Nabokov's House'

A 39-year-old divorcee rebuilding her life finds herself living in a house once occupied by a famous author. So begins the novel, Cleaning Nabokov's House by Leslie Daniels.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Novels come in many genres: political thriller, murder mystery, period romance. There are also plenty of stories devoted to middle-aged divorcees rebuilding their lives, so many they might as well be a genre.

The latest example is called "Cleaning Nabokov's House" by Leslie Daniels, and Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE: Leslie Daniels seems to do it all with the voice. The voice belongs to her narrator and main character Barb Barrett, stranded after the end of her marriage in Onkwego, a small town in upstate New York.

The house Barb lives in is rather exceptional since, as she points out, it used to be the residence of Vladimir and Vera Nabokov when the famous writer was teaching in nearby Ithaca.

Barb barely gets by as a part-time employee writing customer correspondence for a local dairy, and she has only weekend visits with her two children. Toward the beginning of her story, which Barb tells in a delightfully seductive way, she talks about cleaning: They say nature abhors a vacuum, and I did, too, but I was using it. Cleaning was how I dealt with anxiety.

While cleaning, she discovers a novel manuscript that may or may not have been written by the former resident. And this discovery leads her to discover her own latent powers as a writer and as a person in her own right.

Love, attraction, literary values, cooking, cleaning, the making of good sentences, kissing well, raising children and wardrobe malfunctions all come under scrutiny in this engaging story. And if there's a slightly preposterous plot strain having to do with the inauguration of a sex worker business in rural Onkwego, well, even that will only delight the reader looking for a rich escape, but not quite, from ordinary domestic life.

NORRIS: The book is called "Cleaning Nabokov's House" by Leslie Daniels. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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