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ALL THE HOUSES

 

After her father has a heart attack and subsequent surgery, Helen Atherton returns to her hometown of Washington, D.C., to help take care of him and, perhaps more urgently, to heal her own wounds. Intertwining a family story and a story of the Iran-Contra scandal, All The Houses is a sharply observed, heartfelt novel about the strangeness of life in the nation's capital.

 

"For readers anywhere, All the Houses offers a rich exploration of the stubborn strangeness of parents and siblings, but for Washingtonians, the book also provides the uncanny pleasure of seeing our town’s mores examined with precision and sensitivity . . . With its wry humor and gentle insights into the way we draw away from one another at exactly the wrong time, All the Houses is more than just an illuminating story about the nameless victims of political scandal. It’s a story about how our insecurities encourage us to smother our affections—and a reminder that we’re running out of time to make amends."

—RON CHARLES, THE WASHINGTON POST



"In [All the Houses] Olsson never overplays her hand—while there's plenty of emotional tension, she never succumbs to melodrama; every character is remarkably real . . . All the Houses isn't really about Iran-Contra; it's about a family trying to piece itself together after being broken in a public way. Olsson handles her subjects gently; she's not afraid to show her characters' flaws, but she treats them all with a real sense of sympathy. And she writes with a clear eye that's free from sentimental nostalgia, even though nostalgia is, in a way, a central subject of the book. It's a funny, sweet and beautifully written novel about a young woman trying to make sense of both her family and her nation's history, which have become more intertwined for her than most people would be able to understand. Olsson makes a wonderful case for dealing with the past and trying to move on, even when it's painful."

—MICHAEL SCHAUB, NPR

 

"Karen Olsson's All the Houses is as grand as it is intimate—an exquisite, precisely layered and somehow almost magically suspenseful portrait of a family, city, and political culture that's impossible to tear away from."

—DINAW MENGESTU, author of The Beautiful Things that Heave Bears and All Our Names

 

"A patriarch's health falters. A lost daughter returns, stepping back into the long shadow of political scandal that has eroded her family. This is the stage Karen Olsson sets in her magnificent second novel, and she explores questions of loyalty and culpability, of secrecy and identity, with delicious complexity and knife-sharp humor. All the Houses is a stunning portrait of a family forced to reckon with their public legacy and, most of all, their private selves."

—LAURA VAN DEN BERG, author of The Isle of Youth and Find Me

 

"Written with wry humor, penetrating insight, and big-hearted sincerity, Karen Olsson's All the Houses is a wise, contemplative book about the stories that shape a childhood, the traumas that shape a family, and the politics that shape a nation. But it is also something much more: the extremely rare kind of novel whose characters are so true—so richly drawn, subtly nuanced, and intimately observed—that you start to feel that it isn’t a book you are holding in your hands. It’s a living thing."

STEFAN MERRILL BLOCK, author of The Story of Forgetting and The Storm at the Door