Puchner's Debut Novel Forthright, Detailed

In Eric Puchner's novel Model Home, a father relocates his family from the Midwest to Southern California, but his dreams for success, and theirs, falls flat. It's the first novel by the award-winning short-story writer.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

It didn't take long for the recent mortgage crisis to work its way into American art and literature. The new novel "Model Home" by Eric Puchner, uses the collapse of the housing market as a backdrop for the near collapse of a family.

Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE: The Zillers on the surface resemble something like a model family when they first move into their new house in an upper middle class, Southern California subdivision, but they're more like the dysfunctional family in the TV show "Arrested Development."

We meet the parents, Warren and Camille, the kids, daughter Lyle, older brother Dustin, younger brother Jonas. It doesn't take long for the family finances to fall apart. Dad has been trying to sell some model homes out in the desert, model homes that happen to be within distinct sniffing distance of a large waste pond. And as money becomes scarce, dad has to move the family into one of these houses and take a job as a door-to-door salesman.

The kids suffer these problems as well as their own, such as adolescence, a major injury from a house fire and the struggle to try to piece their worlds together while the Ziller marriage falls to pieces around them.

Puchner's prose is forthright, delightfully detailed and the distance he strikes from his characters seems just right: not so close that we can't see them in social context, not so far that we don't feel for them deeply in their distress. I came to feel so deeply for them that the book now and then became almost excruciating to read: the feckless parents, the desperate kids struggling to stay alive and in love with a home world crumbling around them.

As son Dustin puts it, he misses what he thinks of as the slow, jokey, unrehearsed vaudeville of being a Ziller. I'm still trying to recover from reading about the Zillers, Dustin's family, and maybe my family and maybe yours too.

SIEGEL: The new novel, "Model Home," was written by Eric Puchner. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University.

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