Excerpt from Great House by Nicole Krauss, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Great House

A Novel

by Nicole Krauss

Great House
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2010, 289 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2011, 289 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Print Excerpt


Many years have passed since then. I was married for a while, but now I live alone again, though not unhappily. There are moments when a kind of clarity comes over you, and suddenly you can see through walls to another dimension that you'd forgotten or chosen to ignore in order to continue living with the various illusions that make life, particularly life with other people, possible. And that's where I'd arrived, Your Honor. If it weren't for the events I'm about to describe, I might have gone on not thinking about Daniel Varsky, or very rarely, though I was still in possession of his bookshelves, his desk, and the trunk of a Spanish galleon or the salvage of an accident on the high seas, quaintly used as a coffee table. The sofa began to rot, I don't remember exactly when but I had to throw it away. At times I thought of getting rid of the rest, too. It reminded me, when I was in a certain mood, of things I would rather forget. For example sometimes I am asked by the occasional journalist who wishes to interview me why I stopped writing poetry. Either I say that the poetry I wrote wasn't any good, perhaps it was even terrible, or I say that a poem has the potential for perfection and this possibility finally silenced me, or sometimes I say that I felt trapped in the poems I tried to write, which is like saying one feels trapped in the universe, or trapped by the inevitability of death, but the truth of why I stopped writing poetry is not any of these, not nearly, not exactly, the truth is that if I could explain why I stopped writing poetry then I might write it again. What I am saying is that Daniel Varsky's desk, which became my desk of more than twenty-five years, reminded me of these things. I'd always considered myself only a temporary guardian and had assumed a day would come, after which, albeit with mixed feelings, I would be relieved of my responsibility of living with and watching over the furniture of my friend, the dead poet Daniel Varsky, and that from then on I would be free to move as I wished, possibly even to another country. It isn't exactly that the furniture had kept me in New York, but if pressed I have to admit this was the excuse I'd used for not leaving all those years, long after it became clear the city had nothing left for me. And yet when that day came it sent my life, at last solitary and serene, reeling.

It was 1999, the end of March. I was at my desk working when the phone rang. I didn't recognize the voice that asked for me on the other end. Coolly, I inquired who was calling. Over the years I've learned to guard my privacy, not because so many people have tried to invade it (some have), but because writing demands that one be protective and adamant about so much that a certain a priori unwillingness to oblige spills over even to situations where it isn't necessary. The young woman said that we'd never met. I asked her the reason for her call. I think you knew my father, she said, Daniel Varsky. At the sound of his name I felt a chill through me, not only from the shock of learning that Daniel had a daughter, or the sudden expansion of the tragedy I'd perched on the edge of for so long, or even the certain knowledge that my long stewardship had come to an end, but also because some part of me had waited for such a phone call for years, and now, despite the late hour, it had come.

Reprinted from Great House: A Novel by Nicole Krauss Copyright (c) 2010 by Nicole Krauss. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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