I’ve actually managed to accidentally fulfill the original requirements for The Literary Horizon–one newly published book and one to be published book that have caught my eye! This week, we’re looking at the curious phenomena of practice babies and a novel that attempts to marry mild body horror with something much lighter.
The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald
It is the middle of the twentieth century, and in a home economics program at a prominent university, real babies are being used to teach mothering skills to young women. For a young man raised in these unlikely circumstances, finding real love and learning to trust will prove to be the work of a lifetime. In this captivating novel, bestselling author Lisa Grunwald gives us the sweeping tale of an irresistible hero and the many women who love him.
From his earliest days as a “practice baby” through his adult adventures in 1960s New York City, Disney’s Burbank studios, and the delirious world of the Beatles’ London, Henry remains handsome, charming, universally adored—and never entirely accessible to the many women he conquers but can never entirely trust.
Filled with unforgettable characters, settings, and action, The Irresistible Henry House portrays the cultural tumult of the mid-twentieth century even as it explores the inner tumult of a young man trying to transcend a damaged childhood. For it is not until Henry House comes face-to-face with the real truths of his past that he finds a chance for real love.
When I came across a review for this novel in The New York Times, I couldn’t believe it. There was no way that actual children were being used as practice babies in women’s colleges half a century ago. But, of course, truth is stranger than fiction, and a novel that tries to imagine the emotional baggage such a weird upbringing would engender sounds good to me.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any book bloggers who have read and reviewed this, so we’ll have to make do. Entertainment Weekly adored it, declaring it readable and Henry a wonderfully flawed hero. The Washington Post is not impressed, however, finding Henry’s rebellion without motive and alternate methods of parenting deeply frowned upon. While the Washington Post definitely gives me pause–unnecessary teenage rebellion annoys me just as much as unnecessary love or sex in fiction–I think I’ll still give it a go.
The Irresistible Henry House was published on March 16, 2010.
The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace
In the early 1800s, a young Italian contessa, Carolina Fantoni, realizes she is going blind shortly before she marries the town’s most sought-after bachelor. Her parents don’t believe her, nor does her fiancé. The only one who understands is the eccentric local inventor and her longtime companion, Turri. When her eyesight dims forever, Carolina can no longer see her beloved lake or the rich hues of her own dresses. But as darkness erases her world, she discovers one place she can still see-in her dreams. Carolina creates a vivid dreaming life, in which she can not only see, but also fly, exploring lands she had never known.
Desperate to communicate with Carolina, Turri invents a peculiar machine for her: the world’s first typewriter. His gift ignites a passionate love affair that will change both of their lives forever.
Based on the true story of a nineteenth-century inventor and his innovative contraption, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is an enchanting confection of love and the triumph of the imagination.
Humans get eighty percent of their sensory input through their eyes. (I’ve always imagined a dog’s sense of smell occupies a similar majority of their sensory input.) The idea of going blind terrifies me. So the contradiction of a “confection of love and the triumph of the imagination” with the horror of losing your sight actually delighted me–could it be done properly? Toss in love motivating the invention of the typewriter, as well as that wonderful title, and I can see this novel as a light but (hopefully) haunting read.
Mary McDonald, posting at The Debutante Ball, mentions The Blind Contessa’s New Machine in passing, calling it a “rare jewel”. It appears that The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is not as light as I feared, according to McDonald. Publishers Weekly finds it charming, especially pointing out that Wallace marries the tragedy of blindness with the lightness of an affair well. Well, that makes it sounds like a wonderful summer read!
The Blind Contessa’s New Machine will be published July 8.