A Conversation - an in depth look at the book The House On Sprucewood Lane.

An interview by Oralee Wachter, best-selling author and media producer whose work examines critical adolescent and family issues.

“In The House on Sprucewood Lane, the murder of a child cracks open a family barely holding it together.  The way they react reveals surprising strengths as well as weaknesses in each of the characters.”

  • If you had to sum up the theme of THE HOUSE ON SPRUCEWOOD LANE, what would you say?

Well, a title I had in mind for the book early on was This is a Love Story and it is. Each of the characters is driven, in their own way, by a hunger for love, which they feed in vastly different ways. some of them blatantly rapacious, others too land-locked inside themselves to reach out Lex, the filmmaker who narrates the book, is one of the latter and her growth is at the heart of the book.

  • You have associated serious emotional disorders with key characters. Lex, Jared and Barney, for example. Were these problems central to your plot?

THE HOUSE ON SPRUCEWOOD LANE is not about people who are doing fine until tragedy blows their lives apart. It's about a set of damaged people, each carrying heavy baggage, and how this tragedy alters their lives-which it does in some surprising ways, not all of them bad. Take: Lex, whose head the reader is in. She was uprooted at six, isolated from Melanie, the sister she loved and grew up dominated by her narcissistic mother. One of the ways she fought back was through eating binges. As an adult she is a loner who keeps her periodic binges in tight, predictable control, pretending that they aren't that important. On some level you could call her a success: she creates her quirky little films, loves the work and gets reasonably well paid for it. When her nephews, Jared becomes endangered, Lex is able to break through her own defenses and do something heroic, because Jared is more important to her than her fear. In that way, the book is a coming of age story with a fair amount of optimism to it.

  • The boy in THE HOUSE ON SPRUCEWOOD LANE, Jared, is particularly vivid as a troubled kid entering adolescence. Was he based on your personal experience?

Yes. There's a boy I'm very close to who like Jared is extremely bright, with a huge appetite for learning, but he perform erratically in school and is socially awkward and hard to handle at home. ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) Oppositional Disorder: I don't brush these labels off, but any diagnosis, useful though it may be, doesn't show you a whole person. What I see is an engaging boy, at Once delightful and maddening, who's the wrong-shaped peg for most of the school-shaped holes and feels like a misfit six ways from Sunday. Adolescence-twelve, thirteen-is an especially tough time for such a kid. In the novel, Jared is dangerously vulnerable yet strong, you might say brave, in ways that are surprising.

  • Some of the characters, one in particular, could qualify as a monster. What is it like to write about characters like that in depth?

You've got choices when writing a so-called monster. Hannibal Lecter, like Iago, is bad. Just plain bad. Hannibal is outrageous, amusing, horrifying and the reader's enjoyment would be seriously damaged, it seems to me, if one were to explore him in any depth. THE HOUSE ON SPRUCEWOOD LANE isn't about a serial killer thriller. It is a mystery that explores the dark-and some brighter-aspects of relationships, particularly within what we call a family. In creating my monster I found my own feelings sprouting compassion as well as loathing the farther I got into understanding the character. But I do not agree with whoever said, "to understand all is to forgive all."

  • As the story develops,there is a shift in the relationship between Jared and his father, Tom. Why did you feel it was important to point out Tom's subtle but perceptible change in his affection for his son?

In the main, Tom is a deeply unsympathetic character: a newsman without scruples, a man addicted to sex but virtually incapable of affection. He's the product of a tough, damaged childhood and a man who in an ideal world should have never been anyone's father. However, the world is far from ideal and a lot of people who have children are far from posters for parenthood. Tom does have a set of principles he lives by and a powerful capacity for guilt: he never makes excuses or lets himself off the hook. Until his daughter's death he ignored both children except for ritual good night kiss. Afterward, his son's misery and his own grief, turns Tom into a compassionate human being. The fact is, "bad" parents can also love their children.

  • You move the McQuades from their own American Dream home to another home not all that different. What part do these large, luxurious dwellings play in the book?

Building a house, decorating a house, fantasizing about a house: these are preoccupations that can become substitutes, for real life. For one thing, big, wonderful houses are fun and the process of putting them together is absorbing. For another, they translate as success to the outside world; other people admire, even envy, the people who live there. Melanie's focus has been to create such a setting. Her house-a new money house- ' along with her daughter, is her life. The Anacelot house, the place the family goes to after the murder, is an old money house. For its former owner, Courtney, it's just the place she grew up in-she doesn't think about it much. But the pedigree implicit in it is what Melanie and her decorating magazines strive to emulate. Aside from what these houses signify, there is the issue of size: they offer more than ample space for troubled, alienated people - children and adults - to disappear emotionally as well as physically.

Carol Brennan & Caroline Slate Novels

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Reviews

"Characters so rounded you could hear their jagged breathing." Publishers Weekly


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