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House Work by Kristina McGrath

First novel chosen and edited by Alexandra Shelley for Bridge Works.


"'House Work' is less a conventional novel than a series of intensely focused, lyrically descriptive vignettes; portraits of a working-class Pittsburgh family.... The strange poetry of McGrath's novel is not only in her way with words, but in her way of seeing." -Christian Science Monitor

"There can be no doubt that McGrath is a gifted writer. This, her first novel, features writing that is startling in its beauty and challenging in its use of poetic language. She seems to find new ways to use the language, making this a 'novel' in the literal sense." -Library Journal

Publishers Weekly:

In poet and Pushcart Prize-winning storyteller McGrath's slim but haunting first novel, "house work" refers not only to home chores but to the web of family love and strife. Lyrically told and rendered with a feminist slant, the story re-creates the home life of the Hallissey clan, particularly of Anna and Guy and their youngest daughter, Lulie. Guy is an unpredictable black-haired charmer, an alcoholic who berates and repudiates his family. The romantic mystique that self-sacrificing Anna finds for a time in domesticity is conveyed without irony: "Housework had a rhythm like prayer." Her dedication eventually sours, however, transforming into thankless servitude; when the marriage fails, her "excellent inborn talent for ironing" is rewarded with a "brand-new ironing board and an immense white mangle" from her sister so she can survive by ironing and housecleaning for others. In individual chapters, McGrath separately details the fluctuating relationships between family members. The dreamlike sequence "Life Before with Tumbledown Dad," for instance, captures the fitful magic, malevolence and sorrow with which Guy infuses his dealings with his daughters; the chapter ends with Lulie's recognition of her calling as a poet: "My voice is like a river. It will rise." Later, in the poignant "Our Father's Room," Lulie and her sister visit their now broken father, who will die at 48. McGrath's richly imaged prose enchants, but its deliberate stylishness also slows down narrative flow; still, her carefully wrought debut will linger in readers' minds.