Story Rating: 4.25 stars
Audio Rating: 3 stars
Narrator: T.J. Clark
Length: 7 hours, 30 minutes
It’s ironic that Sasha, the man with a psychic gift for feeling the emotions and dreams of houses, is homeless. Kicked out by his mother after his grandmother died, Sasha lost everything— his family, his college education, and his dreams of being a music teacher— and now sleeps on park benches, under bridges, or, as he does when one night he is called by the wistful loneliness of a derelict house, he squats in abandoned buildings. The house’s pain calls to him as much as the safety of walls and a ceiling and the safety of a night’s sleep with no one able to hurt him.
Nick Cooper is desperate. He lost everything when the housing bubble burst. It wasn’t just money or a job or two, it was everything. His wife divorced him, he lost his home, his business crumbled, he had to let his employees go, and now he’s reduced to borrowing money from a loan shark at ruinous rates. This house, this broken down and dilapidated thing, is his last hope of getting back on his feet. More than the money — though, let’s be honest, that’s really important at the moment — it’s also getting his confidence and reputation back.
Nick had no way of knowing the house came with a tenant already hiding in the upper floors. When the young man offers to leave, Nick can’t help but feel a bit of guilt. It’s clear the kid has seen happier days, but he’s polite, he’s clean, he doesn’t drink or do drugs, and Nick … well, Nick could use the help. So, the two of them come to an agreement: Sasha sticks around and works, Nick gives him a bit of money, and Sasha has until the house is sold to find himself a new place to stay, which is weeks away.
Between leaky pipes, roof repairs, sanding, polishing, and demolition, Nick and Sasha become friends. Good friends. But when they finally kiss, it only leaves Nick with more questions. He’s always had a faint interest in boys, but it’s something he never acted on. Sasha is handsome, smart, loyal and … Nick might just be falling for him.
A brief note before getting into the review: This book deals bluntly and practically with some issues that might make some people uncomfortable. Sasha’s estranged mother is a heavy drug user (heroin) and alcoholic. She has also been a sex worker in exchange for drugs and money. There are mentions of the sexual assault and sexual abuse she has endured. Drugs and the harm they do are a constant undercurrent in Sasha’s life and the book doesn’t shy away from this or from the effects it has on people and their relationships. If this subject matter that causes you distress, you might want to pass on this book.
Sasha grew up with a loving grandfather, and while he’s down on his luck, he hasn’t lost either his natural good nature or his optimism. Having seen what drugs and drinking have done to his mother, he avoids them at all costs — though he does smoke, a small vice he isn’t keen on giving up just yet. He’s loyal, earnest, a hard worker, and he loves the fact that the job Nick is giving him (or rather, letting him do) helps the house whose pain he feels so keenly. Every scuff and ding they remove, every flaw they fix makes her happy, which makes him happy, a happiness that Nick can’t help but respond to.
Nick is having a hard time of it. Middle age is fast approaching, though he’s got a few years to the big four-oh, and he’s starting over again. He can’t ask his brothers or parents for help because, as much as they’d like to, they just don’t have the money he needs. So, instead, he made a poor decision to ask a local loan shark for money and Nick’s going to be a big boy and deal with it. It was stupid, but it’s his stupid, and all that’s left is to work as hard as possible to pay him back. Nick never tries to pass the buck, never thinks a dark thought about his wife or how unfair life is. He’s always looking forward, always putting his shoulder to the wheel and giving it his all.
The two of them are so alike in very deep, intrinsic ways. Is it any wonder their friendship came so easily, that the two men who are warm, kind, and — no matter how dire their own situation — always willing to help others found one another? It’s such a natural, easy relationship that nothing felt dramatic or explosive or unbalanced. They come together as naturally as jam and bread, and I enjoyed their relationship.
The drama and fuss of the story is all brought in from outside sources, such as Sasha’s mother, the loan shark, and Nick’s brother’s judgmental boyfriend, and to be honest, I found much of the drama so forced, so tacked on that it kind of took away from the story for me. The loan shark came across as cartoonish to me, and the brother’s boyfriend was just a jerk who was made to be even more of a jerk so we’d know not to care about him or pay attention to him. When such care had been put into Sasha and Nick’s relationship, and to Sasha’s mother’s story, it just felt clumsy and uninteresting.
Sasha’s mother is a pitiable figure, chasing the high of drugs and drink. She threw out her Sasha once his grandfather (her father) died and moved in a string of drug addict and drug dealing boyfriends. She has less care for herself than she did for the house, allowing both herself and her home to be used, abused, and nearly destroyed. Sasha, himself, leans heavily on Nick for emotional strength when dealing with his mother — with her lies, her betrayal, his own heartbreak — and, for all that it’s tragic, her pain and anger only serve to bring Nick and Sasha closer together.
This is a deceptively fluffy book with an interesting paranormal premise that I enjoyed. It was never really explained why or how Sasha had these powers, who else might have them, or what other powers there might be in this world. Was it Sasha’s own power that gave the house its reaction to certain moments and its awareness of certain conversations? Is Sasha merely a conduit for the house, or is he a battery, or is he a … a house wizard, animating them with his own gift? None of it is explained because none of it needs to be, but I’d like to see more books set in this world .
However, there’s another side to this review. I was able to listen to the audio version of this book and I have to say, I did not enjoy it whatsoever. The narrator, TJ Clark, took pains to pause after every comma and stop after every period. Unfortunately, this made the entire book so very, very slow. The narration wasn’t awful, but it’s just not to my personal taste. Something in the rhythm, in the deliberation felt more like someone reading out loud rather than someone narrating a book to me, and I found it hard to keep going, at times. As the story continued, it got a little better, but it never got faster or less stilted. That said, the narrator did a decent job with the voices, keeping Nick, Sasha, and Nick’s two brothers distinct. The female character voices, though, didn’t really work at all for me. If you’re interested in the story, I’d suggest giving the written book a try and passing on the audiobook.