Saturday, November 04, 2006

House of Sand and Fog

Garbo Collage - April 2006

My English 200 Honors class is reading House of Sand and Fog as we anticipate the campus visit of the author, Andre Dubus III, next week. He'll be at Francis Marion as a headliner in our Fiction Festival, which will also feature Ellen Gilchrist and Dinah Johnson. Rereading the novel, I find myself even more sympathetic to the Iranian family that has purchased a house in California that was repossessed by the county but is still claimed by the original owner, who ignored tax bills, thinking she had already paid them. The novel pits Kathy, a down-and-out cleaning woman, against Behrani, a refugee from Iran who was formerly a wealthy Colonel in the Shah's army but is now struggling to make a go of it in the U.S. Things get complicated when Lester Burdon, a deputy sheriff, takes an interest in Kathy's pitiful plight and then falls in love with her while trying to find a way to extricate himself from an unhappy marriage.
My students seem engaged with the book. I've tried to get them to scrutinize the motives of the main characters, influenced as they all are by past events and complexes. In fact, for their next paper, they'll need to select one character to write on, analyzing his or her actions with the help of secondary sources. In Friday's class we puzzled over issues of perspective in the novel. It largely unfolds as a series of chapters alternating first-person points of view from Kathy and Behrani. Then, we begin to get third-person narrative telling Lester's story. I've challenged the students to think about why there is this shift in narrative strategy toward the end of the novel.

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