My Mother’s House

Knopf. May 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780525657156. $26.95. F
DEBUT Haitian American author and scholar Momplaisir delivers a tale of immigrants and the American underclass where they often find themselves, but it is also an exploration of oppressive male violence. As a young man in Haiti, Lucien, the novel’s protagonist and villain, stalks Marie-Ange, the daughter of Duvalier’s assistant, and saves her from death after a coup’s backlash. Eventually they marry, and Lucien brings Marie-Ange and their three young daughters to America to live in a house he owns in Queens, NY. This house is a sentient character in the novel, but not all-knowing, unaware of the extent of violence under its roof. Lucien manages to keep his pedophilia and sexual predation hidden from the neighbors, as he captures several women and keeps them trapped in the house’s basement bomb shelter. In Momplaisir’s hands, Lucien’s character is multidimensioned and his rendering almost sympathetic.
VERDICT Dense with poetic imagery, this debut novel is propelled forward by rich detail that mercifully obfuscates some of its violence. A tour de force; Momplaisir is a writer to watch. [See Prepub Alert, 11/4/19.]

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