Here it is November and the fall book season is about to enter the home stretch. It does so with a dazzling first novel, one that will surely make you sit up and take notice of the fine literary talent that is constantly coming to the fore in this country. This month’s awesomely good author is Nancy Hayfield and her book is Cleaning House, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $10.95). It is a fine and acutely observed story of a suburban housewife, who is similar to the stereotypes in other novels but who also goes far beyond them to the very essence of what constitutes ennui and boredom.
Linda, the novel’s protagonist and Ms. Hayfield’s voice, opens the story as an emotionally crippled product of a strict Catholic environment, in which dirt, sin and death are all entwined and imposed by the authority of a now-dead aunt. In adulthood, dirt, sin and death block Linda’s emotional responses, or at least twist them, so that she is cold toward her husband and withdrawn in a new neighborhood, where the family goes to live. Linda’s problems come to a head when Maggie, a lusty sex symbol, threatens both Linda’s marriage and Linda. Her emotional equilibrium reaches the brink of collapse just before a very natural catharsis occurs.
Ms. Hayfield’s strength is in conveying the credibility of her story, rendering it so authentic that you care passionately about Linda, her husband and Maggie. The ironic humor, the adroitness, the suppleness of Ms. Hayfield’s prose are astonishing in a first novel. It can be truly said that Cleaning House is its own best reward. 🏠