A large wooden desk, a behemoth of a desk, with nineteen drawers, “some big and some small.” This piece of furniture becomes the focal point for the characters in Great House, a fascinating novel by Nicole Strauss. Each character tells their own story, and each one has been affected by the desk in some mysterious and powerful way. There’s a novelist who receives the desk on loan from a young Chilean poet just before he returns to his native land and is killed in political unrest; a grieving widower who discovers his wife’s connection to the desk only after her death; an antique dealer whose mission in life has been to regather objects the Nazi’s stole from Jewish families.
The writer’s thought process fascinates me, and in this case, more so than most. According to Krauss, she had started writing about the desk before she realized that her own desk had sparked the idea. Inherited from the former owner of her home, it was huge and built into the wall, and she “started thinking about how much she hated it,” but also “what a waste” it would be to dispose of it. A new mother at the time, Krauss finally comes to the realization that she’s not really writing about inheriting unwanted pieces of furniture. “I think what I was thinking about was the idea of what is it that our parents pass down to us emotionally in terms of moods, griefs, sadnesses, angles at which we view and face the world and what then do we pass down often unknowingly to our children.” )
So once again my reading has dovetailed with my own interests. I am always, more or less, fascinated and preoccupied with the idea of legacy – how our ancestry determines who we become, how the way our parents relate to us can affect the “moods, griefs, sadnesses, angles at which we view and face the world”; and how as parents ourselves, we perpetuate or spurn the legacy in raising our own children.
I see it played out in my life everyday, and my husband’s, and of course, in my son’s.
Each of us creates our own Great House of emotion and perspective, with a foundation built from the legacy of generations before us.