on May 15, 2015 :
Dene Hellman tells a compelling three-part story in The People Under the House, with a short fourth part bringing it all to completion. It’s a tale that begins with a 60s housewife and, whose perfect life, with all those extras long-hoped for, long-promised, seems suddenly dull and gray. The perfect husband works hard for a living, and the perfect children are truly admirable. But wife and mother loses sight of herself and feels like a servant below-stairs in the rich man’s home. Many women today, though the world has certainly changed, will still recognize themselves in her dilemma.
The chance to interview a German Jew, survivor of WWII, just might be what the lonely housewife needs to revive lost dreams of being a writer. Or it might serve to shatter the dreams she’s in danger of losing now.
Part two gives a new and haunting perspective to the tale. The wife who has everything is brought, together with the reader, into the life of a man who lost everything. The trials of a 60s housewife, or a wife and mother today, seem as nothing compared with the slow shattering of childhood hopes, Kristallnacht’s swift shattering of lives, and all those small incidental betrayals required just to stay alive in Hitler's Germany. Werner’s no hero, but he proves to be a determined survivor. Meanwhile his story has romance but no fairytales. And his dreams are still born of nightmares.
By the end of part two, the reader’s primed to believe there must be hope. But this story continues with real-life trials and tribulations while fairytales fade. There are other wounds besides being hunted or ignored. The lives of the everyday can be filled with secrets every bit as painful as the lives of the lost. And living below-stairs might be preferable to what’s to come.
I love the first two parts of this tale. Fast-flowing, deeply involving, painfully relatable, they contrast beautifully as the protagonists meet on a 60s housing development. But this novel is memoir, and real-life conclusions can be messy, complex and sad. Warts and all, the story builds on post-traumatic stress and lifestyle trauma into a picture of two real lives, separate, intertwined, and finally far enough apart to be knitted back together at the seams.
Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
(reviewed 59 days after purchase)