I love Julia Glass’ books – she is one of those authors who can spin a tale around characters that can both surprise me and make me happy to have their acquaintance. Every novel draws the reader in with the rich inner lives of multiple thought-provoking characters paraded through unexpected situations and events.
A House Among the Trees revolves around a character who is dead before the book begins. Mort Lear is a very successful children’s author and illustrator (think Maurice Sendak in terms of fame) who dies suddenly when he falls off a roof while trying to fix something. The impact of his life (and his untimely death) on a number of characters is explored throughout the novel. Tommie – Tomasina Daulair – has been Lear’s assistant and platonic living partner for over 20 years and has been made executor of his estate, a position she finds overwhelming; Nicholas Greene is a famous British movie star who has been hired to play Mort in an upcoming film called “The Inner Lear” based on an interview Mort gave years ago alluding to abuse in a garden shed in Tucson where he and his mother were living; Merry is the curator of a new museum devoted to children’s literature who expects to receive all of Mort’s artwork and papers (and doesn’t).
Each chapter progresses a day or two as the characters try to move forward on projects that have been rudely shocked by Lear’s death. Important backstories are inserted as needed explaining how Tommie was first drawn into Lear’s orbit, how previous loss has prepared each of them, and how the AIDS epidemic influenced Lear’s life and writing.
High marks for plot, character development, and writing style – it’s not often that you get all three!