“In the end, no place was safe. Every place had a history.”
This sentence taken from “Dream House” by Valerie Laken offers a wonderful description and summary of the entire book. This hauntingly suspenseful and oddly creepy novel addresses race, marriage, abuse and crime, each element working to pull the reader into the story with full force.
Valerie Laken teaches creative writing and other English courses at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She holds degrees in both Russian Literature and Creative Writing and has had five short stories published. She has also been honored with a Pushcart Prize, a Missouri Review Editors’ Prize and two Hopwood Awards with another short story on the way next year.
In “Dream House,” Laken draws the reader through a few different stories from the present as well as a chilly one from the past. In 1987 Ann Arbor, Mich., the Prices are a black family striving to make their dreams come true in their little house not far from the University of Michigan campus when tragedy strikes.. Almost 20 years later, Kate and Stewart Kinzler have graduated from college and tied the knot, yet they still live the life of a college student.
Kate, tired of their way of living, convinces Stewart to move out of their cramped apartment and buy a “fixer-upper” house. During the renovations to the ongoing project that is their house, Stewart and Kate discover a secret. This whispered and hushed story turns into a fight, a rift and then later a hole in the Kinzler marriage, leaving Kate alone and worried and Stewart lost and confused.
Kate soon realizes with her husband gone, her remodeling is not exactly a one-woman project and seeks help from a stranger with ties to the house. Yet the stranger is helping Kate for other reasons deeper levels than what he initially leads Kate to believe.
The inspiration for Laken’s “Dream House” came from a similar dilemma in her own life. Laken and her husband bought a house in a little neighborhood that needed their help with remodeling and reconstruction. They soon discovered from a neighbor that a horrible crime had been committed in the house that they just bought.
Laken skillfully weaves the dreams of a very diverse set of characters throughout her book, and she does so by exploring the question of how far we will go to keep a hold of our dreams. Laken takes these and other delicate and powerful topics and addresses them head on, twisting them with surprises and mystery. She weaves the characters and the plot together seamlessly, but at the same time takes the time to make sure that they feel realistic, thereby avoiding an author’s common pitfall. The story feels real, feels like it can happen in any neighborhood, giving the book an eerie and memorable sense.
“Dream House” is a beautiful story that will have the reader continually turn the pages to discover what a dream is, what it means to different people and the secrets those dreams create. Valerie Laken has received much praise for her writing skills, and that praise is well deserved in “Dream House.”
4 stars out of 5.