Friday, October 22, 2010

The Irresistible Henry House

Lisa Grunwald's The Irresistible Henry House has gotten some good reviews around the blogophere lately, so I was glad to find the book at the library. Unfortunately, I found him quite resistible.

Part of that is not his fault; his story is set in the 1960's, and I was BORN tired of hearing about the sixties and what an exciting decade it was for those who were adults in it.

Another part of it is that his story revolves around the premise that home economics teachers who learned their business before the sixties, while well-intentioned, were unnecessarily rigid about feeding schedules and the fear of "spoiling" a child, and caused lasting emotional damage to infants in their care. So any mother who has children still at home and decides to read this novel, especially the mother of a "spirited child," will be aghast at the child-raising "techniques" that are being taught.

The plot is based on an imagined story to explain a photo the author found while researching the history of Home Economics. The photo is of a "practice baby," an orphan that students took turns learning how to mother. There were evidently "practice baby" programs all over the U.S. until the practice began to die out in the sixties, around the time Dr. Spock's Baby and Childcare was published.

The Home Economics Teacher in the novel is named Martha, and she tells her students that "taking care of a the only important job that most of you will ever have," indicating (among other things) that she believes that mothering can be reduced to a science in order to give it legitimacy. Every time she insists that none of her students pick up the crying baby before it's the right time on her schedule, it makes me cringe.

What happens to Henry after his first two years with Martha and her students is that he can't form attachments to any one person, spends his high school years unable to speak, and learns how to make himself "universally irresistible" to adult women. He can't forgive Martha, who ends up raising him, for lying about his parents in an attempt to keep him for herself. He continually mistakes love for neediness. In short, I found him a thoroughly disagreeable character, and it didn't help that most of his story took place in front of the backdrop of the sixties.

There are already too many novels set in that decade; let's pick a new one to obsess about now, okay?


kittiesx3 said...

This: "I was BORN tired of hearing about the sixties and what an exciting decade it was for those who were adults in it." is me too. I'll pass on this one :-)

FreshHell said...

I, too, am tired of hearing about the 1960's. But, I am also opposed to the scientific method of raising children. You know I have one of those spirited children and I can't even imagine trying to put a baby on a rigid feeding schedule. I mean, unless you want a screaming, hungry baby, go for it! Sigh. But it seems ridiculous to think that would scar you for life. Pass.

Jenners said...

Boy, this just sounds like a very messed up book. I can't even fathom the idea that there were "practice babies" that were "loaned out" to high schoolers to practice with. (Though I'm all for teens learning how difficult it is to raise a child, this doesn't seem quite fair to the child.)

Jeanne said...

Jenners, they were college students, and they came to the "practice house" where the baby lived when it was their turn to take care of him. Still!

FreshHell, that's exactly what I was trying to say. Anyone who's had "spirited" children knows that they will ratchet up to frenzy if you try to let them cry themselves to sleep. I can believe that trying to put such a child on a schedule would have lasting psychological results. (The phrase "scarred for life" may have been a little unfair.)

Elizabeth, we're the same age ;-)

kittiesx3 said...

Neener neener, I am slightly older :P

Anonymous said...

Boo, I guess I'll have to pass on this one. I was initially interested in it because the cover caught my eye (I am totally guilty of judging books by their covers!).

Jeanne said...

Melissa, some bloggers have liked it, but I don't know why. It does have an attractive retro-style cover.