Pros: Entertaining, quirky, insightful, fun
Cons: Downright depressing at a few points
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
I first heard about Man of the House when I stumbled across author Ad Hudler’s blog entry regarding the evolution of the book’s cover. (It’s a good thing he convinced the publisher to change the cover, because the earlier versions did NOT suit the book!) I was amused by his tale, and particularly amused by this author photograph that he had wanted included (I hope he doesn’t mind my including it here):
Take a careful look at the contents of that tool belt. That’s the photo that made me want to read this book, but his publisher refused to include it because they thought it would scare women away! Are you kidding? That photo is hysterical! Had it been included I’d have called it the best part of the book! Not that this implies anything bad about the rest of the book, however, which brings me back to why I’m here.
I didn’t request this book for review after finding out about it, even though I really really wanted to, because I’m buried in books and other tasks. But when my contact at AuthorsOnTheWeb emailed me and asked if I’d give it a read, I couldn’t bring myself to say no. All because of that blog post and photo. So here I am, and here’s your review.
Linc Menner is a househusband. He cooks gourmet meals and fusses over nutrition. He guides and shapes every part of daughter Violet’s life, including sending emails to her teachers when he doesn’t like what they’re doing. He’s a bizarre cross between the ideal husband and dad, and every family’s worst nightmare! To make matters worse, he and his family just moved to Florida, where he has something new to obsess over: hurricanes. And he’s a master of obsession.
Linc is about to have a crisis. A mid-life crisis, an identity crisis, call it what you will. He’s about to discover that he’s trapped on the outside of everything. The moms at his daughter’s school don’t accept him as one of them, but worse yet, as he deals with the contractors renovating their new home, he finds that men don’t accept him as one of them either. His daughter is thirteen and growing into a woman, leaving him behind in certain ways, while his wife’s job demands her every attention; he’s starting to feel left out. In an attempt to fill that void, he decides it’s time to become a real man.
Man of the House is the sequel to an earlier work called Househusband, which I haven’t read. Man of the House stands alone just fine, and I did not feel that I was missing out on any essential information.
Violet, Linc’s daughter, is 13 and attending a fancy prep school where the other moms drive expensive SUVs and talk on their cell phones constantly. Jo, Linc’s wife, is running a hospital, a job that keeps her up late and sends her on the road far too often. The novel’s point of view switches back and forth between these two, Linc, and Violet’s English teacher, Jessica. It threw me for a loop at first, but you quickly learn to look for the name at the beginning of each chapter that indicates who’s speaking. It helps, of course, that each chapter is skillfully written in voice. I particularly love the parts written in the voice of Violet, Linc’s daughter; she’s precocious and has an attitude, but she hardly fits the now-trite stereotype of the precocious teen. Instead she’s complex and real, a fascinating character in her own right, with both startling insights and understandable blind spots to offer.
Much of the fascination of Man of the House comes from its quirky humor:
Ah, my new weapon! I had been told by a friend in Rochester that the secret to getting subcontractors to show up at your house is to time the serving of aromatic baked goods with the predictable human blood-sugar crashes of midmorning and midafternoon.
It’s fun to ride along with the characters as they do really neat things (some of Linc’s ways of engaging his daughter’s imagination are priceless, while others are hysterically over-the-top). It’s equally fun to watch them run headlong toward many of the pitfalls they can’t see coming (Linc’s attempts to engage the contractors in conversation only send them running as he erupts into passionate discourse on the difference between baking and cooking).
I found some parts a bit on the depressing side as Linc reaches the worst of his funk and his wife seems to have little success in reaching out to him. However, what could have been a largely extraneous plot about an English teacher who’s a little too interested in Mr. Menner instead nicely dovetails with Linc’s identity crisis, giving us not only a different and valuable perspective on his actions, but acting finally as a catalyst to bring the whole thing to its conclusion. It also gives us a perfect contrast with Linc’s obsessive nature, to show that there can indeed be a fine line between beneficial and harmful obsessiveness.
I highly recommend giving Ad Hudler’s Man of the House a read. It’s entertaining, unusual, and engaging, and dives headlong into issues of gender roles and stereotyping without a trace of self-consciousness or preachiness.