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A House Among the Trees


A House Among the Trees

What if it was your sole responsibility to honor the legacy of a literary powerhouse after his death? Tomasina Daulair, known mostly as Tommy, is finding out the perils and pitfalls of this sacred charge when her boss, famed children’s book author and artist Mort Lear, dies after an accident at his Connecticut home. Forty years earlier, Tommy was playing with her younger brother on a New York City playground when she first met the then-unknown artist, who was sketching her brother as research for his next book, the book that would establish him as a literary giant of modern children’s literature.

Years later, a chance meeting would reunite the two, and Tommy began to work for Morty as his assistant, eventually moving out of the city and into his idyllic country home. But his sudden death after a fall isn’t the only shock that awaits her: “Tommy never doubted that Morty would be generous to her, but she had no idea he would leave her the house and the surrounding property outright; even less than no idea that he would name her his literary executor, assigning her a series of detailed responsibilities as variously remote from her experience as foraging for mushrooms or Olympic diving.”

"In this departure from her earlier works, Glass gets to deftly examine the nature of art, celebrity, legacy and friendship --- in all their glory and dangers."

Along with becoming the gatekeeper of his literary legacy, Tommy was concerned about a recent correspondence Morty had forged with British actor Nicholas Greene, who was set to play Morty in a biopic about the famed author. Normally a guarded and stand-offish type, Morty bonded with Nick and even shared certain memories with the actor, things he never even shared with his trusted assistant. To agree to a filmed adaptation of his life seemed so unlike Morty, a man who carefully guarded his privacy, especially in the wake of the death of his lover, who had succumbed to AIDS years before.

Why was Morty being so open near the end of his life?  “...Morty was prone to superstition. Some of his habits verged on fetish: his stationery, the brands of his pastels and paints, the timing of meals... His life, for several years now, had ticked like a metronome.” Would Nick respect Morty’s life and work and not demean or tarnish it? Tommy needs some reassurance from Nick before she can trust him fully.

In addition to Tommy and Nick, Morty’s death leaves things asunder for his lawyer Franklin and for Merry, the museum curator whose career depends on keeping the Lear exhibits in her museum despite the strange requests in his will. Also left unsettled is Dani, Tommy’s younger brother and the model for Ivo, the character from Morty’s most famous work, Colorquake, whose relationship with his sister has been fraught for years. Can these disparate characters each achieve their goals while honoring their pledges to the mercurial author?

National Book Award-winning author Julia Glass has said in interviews that three things inspired her to write A HOUSE AMONG THE TREES: 1) an article she read with the late Maurice Sendak, author of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, who had some unexpected codicils in his will, 2) watching an in-depth interview with several leading male actors, and 3) talking to her son about why he loves acting. In this departure from her earlier works, Glass gets to deftly examine the nature of art, celebrity, legacy and friendship --- in all their glory and dangers. Nick keenly observes the nature of fame: “All celebrity does is arrange and spotlight your foibles as if they were mannequins in a shopwindow, tart them up for all to see. You become a parade unto yourself, but if you are diligent and have a decent sense of direction, you determine the route.”

Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on June 23, 2017

A House Among the Trees
by Julia Glass

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 1101873590
  • ISBN-13: 9781101873595