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Model Family: A Book Review of Model Home by Eric Puncher

April 1, 2010

As I read Model Home by Eric Puncher, I kept forgetting that the novel was taking place in the mid-eighties – the themes felt so modern, so relevant. It was only when I came across small mentions of cassette tapes and Atari video games that I remembered this was not the story of an average family today, but one twenty-five years ago. They were almost interchangeable. I think this mostly speaks to how much I was able to relate to the family in the book. Sure, it is a whole generation later, but married couples still grow distant, men still go bankrupt over rash development schemes, teenagers still try to be either popular and well-liked, or angry, rebellious, and different. All these things happen to the Ziller family, and more.

The story follows the Zillers through one life-changing summer. The family has followed the father’s development dreams from Wisconsin to sunny California. The project Warren is building in the California desert goes bankrupt when a toxic waste dump is built nearby, and his houses become impossible to sale. Wanting to protect them, he hides the troubles from his wife and family, even up to the point where his car and the living room furniture have been repossessed. 

Warren isn’t the only one in the family with secrets this summer. The teenage son, Dustin feels inexplicably unsatisfied with his life as a popular surfer and garage-band member, and especially with his nearly perfect girlfriend, Kira. In his restlessness, he is drawn to her rebellious and dangerous younger sister Taz. The Ziller’s daughter, Lyle, is also in a hidden relationship, with the shy, chamellion-loving security guard in their wealthy gated community. Warren’s wife Camille is having trouble directing her educational film about reproduction, and in the midst of this distant family, the youngest boy feels lost and invisible.

The story of the family is told through each character’s point of view, which brings out so well how fully each member of this family is living in their own tiny world. The book affected me not only because I related to this real, heartbreaking family, but also because, just at the moment of brightest hope in the novel, everything for this family collapses from bad to worse. The family is on an overnight camping trip in the California desert, and away from the world and their troubles, you can see how close they could be, how they really were a family. But it all ends with the trip and a tragedy that strikes just as they are returning home.

I felt deeply for each of these characters, for them individually and as a family, and in this book, as so often happens in real life, it is the family dog, a minor character, not even able to talk, who is a part of the glue holding this tenuous family together.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 10, 2010 10:42 am

    Allison,
    I gave you an award over on my blog!!!

    http://midwesterngoneidahoan.blogspot.com/2010/04/new-blog-love.html

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