"introspective character-driven women's fiction with smart writing"
I first discovered Sonja Yoerg when her nonfiction book about animal intelligence, CLEVER AS A FOX, popped up on Goodreads (“How interesting!” said the animal lover in me). I was fascinated by this author’s professional experiences and grew even more so as I got to know her wit and charm through social media. It goes without saying that I couldn’t wait to dig in to her fiction debut, HOUSE BROKEN, to see how pieces of Yoerg’s professional background fit into her fictional story. She certainly did not disappoint (and I’m quite thrilled to have gotten an advance copy).
It’s clear, in this story of family relationships and hidden secrets, Yoerg understands the complexities of animal AND human behavior. Told through the points of view of three characters – Geneva, her mother Helen, and Geneva’s daughter Ella – we learn so much about the ways people misunderstand one another. Family dynamics and dysfunction play a primary role in this story, aided by the author’s clever insertion of canine analogies and connections to the wild.
Says Geneva of her son Charlie’s behavior: “Habits were hard to break; a child cutting corners and bending the rules was the same as a dog with a habit of digging. Look the other way, and a hole becomes a tunnel, and the dog is somewhere on the far side of the fence.”
Through Geneva’s recollection of childhood, we see a remarkable human connection to animals and the natural world.
“One summer morning she had been sitting on a log for half an hour when she detected a change in her surroundings. A moment passed, then a Cooper’s hawk swooped down to snatch a warbler from the air…. At the time, she concluded that the gravity of certain events ran slightly ahead in time. If she paid close attention, she could sense the subliminal shudder preceding something dangerous, or spectacular.”
While wildlife and nature lend a lovely backdrop to this story, it is, ultimately, a tale about family and the poisonous effects of hidden secrets. Despite the story’s serious nature, Helen’s character provides some laugh-out-loud moments with her particular turns of phrase. One of my favorites was the description of her husband going “ass over teakettle” as he fell into a bunker while golfing.
Helen may sum up the essence of this story best when she thinks to herself, “The past wasn’t a guest you could ask to leave when you tired of its company. No, the past put up its feet and meant to stay.” If you enjoy introspective character-driven women’s fiction with smart writing that grapples with tough issues, HOUSE BROKEN by Sonja Yoerg, is the book for you. I’m personally looking forward to the next story by this wonderful author!
Original version published at Goodreads. Reposted, in full, with permission of the author.