Summary and book reviews of The House of Gentle Men by Kathy Hepinstall

The House of Gentle Men

By Kathy Hepinstall

The House of Gentle Men
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2000,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2001,
    354 pages.

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Book Summary

A virgin child dreamed a woman's dreams in the lush, somnolent backwoods of Louisianna. In a year of war, sixteen-year-old Charlotte embarked on a mission of love, only to be set upon by three sodiers in training in a lonely, isolated section of the forest. And thus was a young life destroyed and remade, leaving Charlotte silent and alone, save for something that now grew inside of her. And nine months later when a babe was born--a demon in her eyes--Charlotte abandoned it to the elements, knowing she could never bear to look upon it.

Most wars eventually end. But some continue to rage internally.

Years later, in a world at peace, a friend's gift of pity brings Charlotte to a very special place in the woods. Every night, sad, damaged, overworked and unappreciated women make their way to the House of Gentle Men. Here they find the solace and chaste kindness they so desperately crave, administered by haunted men wishing to atone for the crimes in their pasts.

But Charlotte's past is alive within these welcoming walls. And her own sins and secrets impel her to consort with one--and only one--penitent soul whose accusing conscience has brought him here: a damaged man, no longer a soldier, who once joined two comrades to defile a teenage girl in the Louisiana wood.

Chapter 1

From the beginning, the child growing inside her seemed aware of the need for secrecy. It took her monthly flow quietly, swelled her fingers quietly, introduced quietly a craving for mayhaw jelly and Karo syrup straight from the bottle. And the girl--Charlotte--told no one, and no one suspected. For in that fall of 1941, the people of the town could not look at her and see a growing baby. They saw only Charlotte's mother, ambushed by sudden and merciless flames.

The outrageousness of Charlotte's condition furnished more protection. How could a barely kissed Baptist girl--newly sixteen--have conceived anything two weeks after her mother was killed? For in the grief that follows horror there is no room for any Events, only the slow opening of doors and pickle jars, the refusal of a pet to leave the site of a grave, the sudden tears called forward by the sound of Bible passages and the faint aroma of bacon in the black-eyed peas. Tragedy cannot follow so closely on the ...

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Plot Summary
Louisiana, 1941. Young men from all over America crawled through swamps in what has become known as the Louisiana Maneuvers, or the war before the war. In the surrounding towns, teenage girls swooned for the soon-to-be soldiers. At the tender age of 16, Charlotte Gravin was one such girl. And so, only two weeks after witnessing her mother die in a fire accidentally set by her brother, she wanders into the woods to find a soldier to love. She emerges from the forest degraded, defiled by three men, pregnant, and unable to speak. Nine months later, she births a son alone in the forest and abandons him to the wild.

Evocative and poetic, The House of Gentle Men is populated by individuals who--like Charlotte--have shouldered ...
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A surreal but touching tale set in post World War II Louisiana. A glorious first novel that I think would be particularly enjoyable to explore in the context of a reading group.  

Media Reviews
Library Journal

In an assured first novel that demonstrates promising literary talent, Hepinstall gracefully explores issues of guilt, forgiveness, grace, and redemption.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Kathy Hepinstall, a skillful new voice in fiction, creates a house of pleasure that replaces lust with love in her debut novel, The House of Gentle Men. Hepinstall's dream-like tale is a distinctly feminine perspective on the consequences of romantic love. Men are doomed to hurt women and women are fated to be their only means of salvation. For a few tantalizing pages -- before the lurking evil elbows its way to the forefront -- one can rejoice in the fantasy that there is a magical place where the sexes overcome the unpredictable combustion of erotic love. Fresh and provocative, The House of Gentle Men shimmers with sensuous prose. Still, the novel's elusive characters may not be tangible enough to draw many readers all the way to its disturbing conclusion.

The Sun Herald

Kathy Hepinstall's first novel is as intriguing and lyrical as its title. The House of Gentle Men is a tale to savor, to ponder over, to go back to and reread passages for their sheer beauty and poetry. Set in rural Louisiana during and after World War II, the lush landscape of the novel matches the lushness of Hepinstall's creation of a world of sad, flawed but courageous characters seeking salvation through forgiveness.

Reader Reviews

A Stunning Book
This book reads like a mythological story or fairy tale, almost, with its gentle prose and thoughtful characters. What an incredible story, and how delicious to follow the inter-related characters to their stunning conclusions! This book speaks of ...   Read More


I thought this was a tender story. I enjoyed it very much.

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