Friday, August 19, 2011

Model Home by Eric Puchner

   Set in the mid 1980s, Model Home tells the story of a family unraveling in the midst of an economic crisis.  Warren Ziller works as a housing developer, selling poorly constructed homes to unsuspecting families.  The Zillers have lived very privileged lives until Warren's real estate bubble bursts and he is forced to move his crumbling family into the desert - into the very same neighborhood he has been trying to sell.

   But even before Warren is struck down by karma, his family was already slipping away from him.  Camille, his wife, believes he has been having an affair so she gives up on their relationship altogether.  Warren's two teenagers, Dustin and Lyle are involved in a strangely magnetic push and pull social scene, and the youngest, Jonas, is usually ignored due to his morbid eccentricities.  When a tragic accident forces them to move into the run-down house in the middle of nowhere, each family member's downward spiral is chronicled, and their individual and collective stories are painful reminders of how close they came to happiness.

   I was particularly heartbroken by Jonas's story.  At 11 years old, he is introverted and quirky, which is why his family finds him so easy to ignore.  When the tragedy that befalls the Ziller family is wrongly blamed on Jonas, he must descend the ranks of his family even further.  Believing that Jonas is the cause of their misfortunes, the Zillers are cruel to him - they ignore him mostly, but when he tries to make peace with them by bringing gifts and other subtle offerings, he is mocked and chastised.  Jonas becomes the family's scapegoat in every sense of the word, yet their problems remain.

   Model Home represents the other side of the American coin, confronting the question "What happens if we cannot achieve the American Dream?"  Well, nothing really.  You live in mediocrity.  In reality.  The living situation is not ideal, but you are still living.  The problem with the Zillers is that they blame all of their problems on one single event and live their lives in mourning over the loss of wealth, success, and happiness.  But in reality, they weren't that happy in the first place.  But more importantly, Puchner's novel is about our painstaking efforts to communicate with each other.  Despite tragedy, poverty, disappointment, and shattered expectations, we cannot stop our impulses to maintain human connection.  Even when relationships are toxic, there is something magnetic in our desires to stay connected to each other, and therefore, loneliness is one of the greatest tragedies that can befall a human being.