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Cleaning Nabokov's House    by Leslie Daniels order for
Cleaning Nabokov's House
by Leslie Daniels
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Barb Barrett had not been happy in her marriage for some time. Her husband had a way of seeming to be always right, and she always deferred to him. When he decided to uproot the family from New York City to the small town of Onkwedo, while she was still mourning her recently deceased father, she found herself unable to accept his control over every small detail of her life.

'Making order out of dirty dishes, for example, seemed entirely beside the point of life. At the dishwasher the experson said to me, 'God is in the details,' and I crammed his dirty coffee mug in any way at all and I walked out. You'd think that an argument about loading the dishwasher wouldn't be sufficient cause to leave someone, especially when children are involved, but that's what tipped me out the door.' From then on, Barb refers to her ex-husband as an experson, misses her children terribly, and starts to take control of her own life.

Barb lives in a motel at first, working at a part-time job answering letters for a local dairy. Her life has spiraled down into such a pit that her thoughts circle around her depression over her father's death, her grief over losing her children to her controlling husband and the infrequent visits they have with her, and her feelings of being lost and alone in a small town where no one seems to like her. As sad as Barb's situation seems, Cleaning Nabokov's House is written with such a lively, humorous tone that it's fun to read. The title refers to the old house that's for sale that she finds one day when she was parked near enough to the childrens' school to be able to see her daughter playing at recess.

'I looked at the For Sale sign. I looked at the house. It had windows that covered one long side. It looked as if a young architect - fresh from Onkwedo's own Waindell University - had fallen in love with Frank Lloyd Wright, bought himself a pile of wood, borrowed a hammer, and set to work. The house was both beautiful and a shack at the same time, made with the young architect's good ideas about modern design. Like the Second Little Pig had been schooled at the Bauhaus.' Because of some money she has saved from selling a car that she inherited from her father, she's able to buy the house, and discovers that Nabokov lived there early in his career.

Moving into the house is just the first step in Barb's journey from mousy little yes-wife to independent entrepreneur who is willing to fight her ex-husband to regain custody of her children. Along the way we are treated to a delightful fairy tale of a story with Barb growing and changing every step of the way. The descriptions, of characters as well as places, are as quirky as the town itself. Barb's own reactions to these other people in her life give us clues both to what kind of people they are and how she is growing in her ability to relate to other people successfully. I loved this book, for the story, the style of writing, the humor, and the people of Onkwedo.

There was one wonderful paragraph toward the end of the book that illustrates Barb's changed attitude to food as her life improves, and that describes a meal that would have been impossible for her to prepare when she was married. 'At home I ate a sundae of my own creation, Old Daitch Dairy vanilla ice cream and pecan-butterscotch sauce. It was the kind of dinner that set up a deep craving for kale. The butterscotch sauce recipe called for melted butter, brown sugar, and pecans. It came out grainy and odd. The kale was divine.'

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