Review by Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo
The ambiguities of family and justice are at the center of Ellen Meeropol’s debut novel, House Arrest. The story is relayed through the points of view of Emily, Pippa, Sam and Gina, who, through a spare, tight prose, share views from various vantage points on morality, the concept of rigid rightness and the idea of who constitutes a family. Meeropol takes the reader deeply into the complexities of friendship and the blurred lines of right and wrong as the characters confront painful pasts and reach conclusions that allow them to move beyond the limitations of those histories. The liquidity and flexibility of family is a lovely backdrop that in the end becomes sharply clear as a strong, but not heavy-handed, focal point of the novel.
The story is set during a cold and snowy winter in Springfield, Massachusetts—with forays to Maine, Georgia and Jamaica—and recounts the unlikely blooming friendship between home nurse Emily and pregnant cult member Pippa, who is under house arrest for the death of her daughter during a Winter Solstice ritual the previous December. Pippa needs Emily’s assistance in bending the rules of the house arrest in order to participate in the coming December’s Solstice ceremony, a ritual of high importance to the cult, which Pippa considers her family. This dilemma forces Emily to confront her fixed ideas of right and wrong and parallels from her past rise quickly to the surface—that sometimes subverting rules is required for the greater good. As she cares for Pippa’s health and gains a deeper understanding of Pippa’s perspective, Emily grows to view Pippa’s situation and her own past in a new light.
A charmingly self-proclaimed “late literary bloomer,” Meeropol was a Nurse Practitioner before turning to the written word, and her medical background shines through with credible and confident medical expertise. The clinical aspects of Pippa’s care are relayed with enough of a light touch to lend believability to the novel—it neither bores nor belabors, but enhances the tightly plotted story.
The novel is full of rich characters, representing an array of life, who do not translate as “types,” but rather as a thoroughly accessible view of the modern family. Their clear voices allow graceful movement from one point of view to the next, the story continuing as links in a chain. The novel moves smoothly, each vignette and action works towards moving the story to its conclusion. The pace never stumbles and the effect is that the novel never fails to engage.
One of the strengths of House Arrest is the author’s distance from establishing an agenda: although she raises many questions, Meeropol refrains from heavy-handed moralism, neither through the storyline nor through the voices of her characters. She does not spell it all out but allows the reader to make connections and find deeper meaning—a truly collaborative moment between writer and reader.
House Arrest is not only an enjoyable and engaging novel, but an examination of what it means to be a friend, a family member and to view moral dilemmas without the narrow lens of a rigid idea of right and wrong. Through the novel, Meeropol offers us a hope that friendship and family can be found in unlikely places and that the errors of the past can be righted by establishing new viewpoints that positively affect the present and future.
CONGRATULATIONS to Stephanie and Naomi—winners of our book giveaway! Enjoy!