The Irresistible Henry House
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". . . a breathtakingly beautiful trip down memory lane . . ."
Not only is this a wonderful love story of a young man searching for his place in a chaotic world, but the author has also filled her pages with some of the most amazing moments in America's history.
We begin in 1946, on the grounds of Wilton College. The "campus buzzed with the freshness of fall" as the female undergraduates came together to begin their collegiate lives. Martha Gaines runs the House at Wilton – a regular home that teaches students how to raise and care for children efficiently and correctly. This is the time in America where the boys are off in battle and will soon be home, looking for their future wives. During that time period, practice babies – orphans – are given to the House for the sole purpose of teaching red-blooded American girls how to be the best mothers they can be. And Martha Gaines – an unbelievably strong woman – is the person in charge of this popular program. Martha has her own back story; a young woman who fell for a railroad maintenance man in her youth, she was one of the many who was looking forward to a future as a wife and mother, only to find out that her first child would never draw a breath and her womanizing husband could care less about either of them.
So Martha went forth by herself and became the strict guide that other young women would learn from. Martha was adamant that the children in her care be treated coolly – not be picked up every time they cried, or kissed on the cheek simply 'because.' But when Henry House came into her life, all that hard-nosed wisdom began to wane. Martha soon found herself head over heels for the newest ward of the House and wanted nothing more than for the young women students to leave so that she could spend all her time with Henry. Quickly learning that the child actually belonged to one of the girls – and that the girl in question was the daughter of the college president – Martha devised a plan. The president of the school wants no one in the world to learn that his daughter made the "mistake" that the rest of the campus referred to as Henry, so he comes to the conclusion that Martha can adopt the child and raise Henry herself.
The one thing Henry never lacks is a mother. All the students love him to death and Martha practically suffocates him with the affection that she's been storing up inside her soul for years. With Henry, Martha lets go of the loneliness that she's carried for an eternity and throws herself into babying, coddling, and unmercifully doting on the young boy. And Henry can't stand it. He wants more than anything to be told who his real parents are; he craves the "perfect life" that he sees in his mind with a perfect set of parents who love him more than life.
As Henry ages, he begins to use and discard women like tissues when he decides they are simply not providing him with the love he truly needs. He does many strange things – including making himself mute – so that he can be sent away from Martha and live life on his own terms. Not only do we stand by Henry's side as he struggles, fails, and makes one bad decision after another, but we also see the world changing through Henry's eyes. When we begin, America is a country where women are the caregivers and men go out to work. By the end of the book, the independence of the 1960's is front and center, and women's rights have taken over the news. We watch with fear at the first polio outbreak; and marvel at the fantastic color that lights up the first television set. From the Beatles' explosion in London to the day that Cronkite announced the horrible news that the beloved President was indeed dead inside Parkland Hospital – Henry House is part of the extremely turbulent times. When he draws "Winky" in an advertisement, Henry ends up as a Disney animator in Burbank, working his craft on a movie called Mary Poppins that just might be good enough to be remembered someday.
Every page is a breathtakingly beautiful trip down memory lane, and reading about the trials and tribulations of Henry House as he desperately tries to figure out how to love himself and others is truly a fantastic way to spend your time.
Reviewer: Amy E. Lignor