REVIEW: ALL THE HOUSES, BY KAREN OLSSON

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How does one come home again, after launching an adult life, albeit one that is somewhat floundering? Helen Atherton is trying to find out how to do just that, and how to reconnect with her father, Tim Atherton, whose connection to the Iran-Contra Affair of the 1980s lent a certain intrigue to his life back then.

Her father’s heart condition gives Helen the perfect excuse to change course, and try to write something meaningful about her father’s life and his work.

Helen is the middle sister, sandwiched between her “perfect” older sister Courtney and the younger, somewhat elusive sister Maggie. When Helen comes back to Washington, D.C., she sees that the ties between the siblings are unraveling. She doesn’t understand either of her sisters, and they don’t seem to understand her.

All the Houses was somewhat disjointed, going back and forth between the past and the present, and in both cases, we see Helen floundering. Her recollections of parties her parents threw in her childhood seemed to be her way of trying to understand how her father had made the choices he did, and why he is so detached from life now. His former colleagues and friends seem to have slipped away, and he lashes out. Was everything in his career defined by the mistakes he made?

I didn’t care that much about the characters, although my favorite parts were watching Helen in the present, trying to forge a new life. Her memories of the past seemed like selective memories, as she tried to find meaning and hope in the events that defined her father and his career. 3.5 stars.

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