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A Good House: A Novel
by Bonnie Burnard

Published: 2001-10-05
Paperback : 320 pages
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A Good House begins in 1949 in Stonebrook, Ontario, home to the Chambers family. The postwar boom and hope for the future color every facet of life: the possibilities seem limitless for Bill, his wife Sylvia, and their three children.

In the fifty years that follow, the possibilities ...

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Introduction

A Good House begins in 1949 in Stonebrook, Ontario, home to the Chambers family. The postwar boom and hope for the future color every facet of life: the possibilities seem limitless for Bill, his wife Sylvia, and their three children.

In the fifty years that follow, the possibilities narrow. Sylvia's untimely death marks her family indelibly but in ways only time will reveal. Paul's perfect marriage yields an imperfect child. Daphne unabashedly follows an unconventional path, while Patrick discovers that his happiness requires a series of compromises. Bill confronts the onset of old age less gracefully than anticipated, and throughout, his second wife, Margaret, remains, surprisingly, the family anchor.

This extraordinarily moving and beautifully crafted first novel was a number one bestseller in Canada where it won one of the country's most prestigious literary awards, the Giller Prize, in 1999.

Editorial Review

It's not an easy thing to write a novel about a family. Of necessity--and as the narrative years advance--characters proliferate, success and tragedy accrue, events maneuver to the fore with faintly arbitrary impetus. First-time novelist Bonnie Burnard, however, evades such worn grooves with the purest renunciation: a patient and lovely voice. In A Good House, awarded Canada's Giller Prize in 1999, Burnard documents an Ontario family over half a century with unadorned, deliberate, and tender sympathy.

Flush with post-World War II optimism, veteran Bill Chambers and his wife Sylvia settle in to the business of raising their three young children. Bill logs full days at the local hardware store; Sylvia strings the family's clothes out to dry in the backyard and proffers dinner punctually. Her wasting health, however, leaves her husband yearning for a contentment now stolen and her children disquieted by the sudden tenuousness of their security. When Sylvia dies and Bill remarries, his staunch and pragmatic bride Margaret displays a three-fold capacity: she allows him his sluggish and methodical affection; she preserves Sylvia's memory with untainted regard; and she cultivates a deft empathy with her stepchildren.

Burnard's meticulous pacing nearly, but never quite, upstages the story itself, although her unwieldy and expanding cast of characters occasionally threatens such harm. Margaret is the real wonder of the book. While the requisite affairs, divorces, and funerals intervene--and as Bill declines excruciatingly into a belligerent stranger--she summons a reserve of affection, the source of which is admirably opaque. She perseveres in "hoping as mothers and fathers almost always do that the difficulties could be examined, could be broken apart and fixed one by one by one." Burnard's tale is dignified and generous. --Ben Guterson

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