I still think of the writing in History of Love, Krauss’s previous book, whenever I’m asked about beautiful prose. And she’s done it again in Great House. Though her novels are not short, they read like prose poetry–something few authors can pull off page after page for 300 pages. I read countless sentences three or four times, thinking to myself she just nailed that description. And then she’d do it again a paragraph later. I might be able to conjure up one simile of her caliber–but it would probably take a year. She writes: “After three nights of talking as we had not in many years, we arrived at the inevitable end. Slowly, like a hot-air balloon drifting down and landing with a bump in the grass, our marriage of a decade expired.” And later, in the voice of a different character: “I read without absorbing the meaning of the words. I would flip back and begin again at the last place I remembered reading, but after a while the sentences would dissolve again and I would go back to skidding obliviously across the blank pages, like those insects you find on the surface of stagnant water.”
The novel is actually a collection of stories loosely woven together by an antique desk. They don’t connect seemlessly–and at times I wondered how they connected at all–but I gave up trying to hunt for a direct link and simply enjoyed each one in its own right. By the end, they come together enough to give it the feel of a novel, but don’t expect a tightly wrapped gift. It’s not that neat and tidy. But that’s okay because the characters are unique, the stories compelling, the writing beautiful. And I have no doubt that with a second read, I’ll find more connections, more threads to offer a tighter weave than I noticed the first time around.