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Story House by Timothy Taylor

Story House

by Timothy Taylor

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A bit complicated of a story at times but Taylor's exploration of the effects of architecture on people and the relationships between members of a dysfunctional family trying to "make things right" is a great exploration of the human condition. The story was a bit hard to follow at times, but getting to the ending made it worthwhile.

-page 86-87
"I need to tell you something," he said to her, interrupting.
She listened, at least. Graham heard her sit back in what sounded like a soft chair, probably in the club lounge. He pictured her: skin darkened by the sun, now added colour rising in her cheeks as she focused on his next words. Korean features prettier in concentration.
"When I was in L.A.," Graham told her, "I met a man who had a house built by my father. He's a producer. Avi Zweigler."
Esther registered the receipt of data. "Okay," she said.
"Zweigler collects Packer Gordon. Models, tools, blueprints. Amazing."
Still listening. No premature move toward a conclusion. "Okay," she repeated.
"Zweigler bought my father's camera," Graham told her. "The movie camer he used to film his projects. The camera he also used . . ."
"I remember," Esther said, growing impatient. She was expert at remaining calm in the face of an uncertain future, but always less successful hiding her feeling about the dead weight of the particular past. And discussion of this part of Graham's past, Esther had long thought , only revealed Packer Gordon to be (in addition to famous, a philanderer and bad with money) capable of cruelty. And that was a sunk cost, the valuation of which was irrational." ( )
  steven.buechler | Nov 1, 2013 |
Two half-brothers, Graham and Elliot Gordon, meet in a boxing ring to spar out their problems, their father strangely filming the bout for posterity. Their combat is brief, unexpectedly violent, and poignantly rendered on the page, and up to this point, readers could be forgiven for believing Timothy Taylor’s latest novel is an ode to the sweet science.

As the account unfolds, however, it becomes apparent the Canadian author has a deeper focus to his story. Much as in the manner in which his Giller Award-nominated debut novel Stanley Park employed food as a narrative catalyst, Story House uses the art of architecture to examine the uncertainty of family, attempting, in the manner in which Graham looks at buildings, “to see through the structure to the rock beneath. The roll and shape of it."

As the boys mature, Taylor’s themes take root. Graham, like his father, seeks a career in architecture, trying to gain himself a reputation separate and distinct from his far more famous father. Elliot, “whose world view had evolved into a deadly, deliberate project of hating everything to do with the quest for accomplishment," makes a successful career as an importer of counterfeit products.

Estranged for years, the two are reunited at the site of their past battle, a decrepit edifice now believed to be one of their late father’s unsung masterworks. Teaming up a producer from the reality television show Unexpected Architecture, they decide to restore the building into something of its former self.

Taylor has a knack for imbuing his stories with lyric realism, unearthing beauty in the mundane and trivial. Where Stanley Park effortlessly captured the sweaty splendour of the restaurant kitchen, Story House finds brilliant majesty in the mould and mildew of buildings, explaining through vividly realized discussions of architectural concepts “the dreams that brought them into being."

Yet like the structures he espouses, Taylor has built Story House into a luminous hollow façade, a vacant shell awaiting tenants to breathe life into it. “How do we expose the thing, make it understood?" ponders one character as he examines the ongoing restoration. Taylor has the same dilemma.

There are no revelations in the characters; the brothers’ relationship is summed up in the opening chapter, and never alters further. While the unchanging personality of family is a major theme, it also hinders the author in keeping things interesting. Taylor’s exploration of the bonds of family through architectural structures is a laboured metaphor that rarely digs as deep as it seems.

It’s a shame, as Story House is never less than eminently readable. But Taylor’s tale peaks in its opening chapter as the boys bob and weave and throw clumsy punches that cause as much emotional damage as physical.

This image haunts Story House, two brothers brought to blows by a misguided sense of family honour. The real tragedy is that, for all of Taylor’s architectural skill and tremendous literary dexterity, Story House is ultimately as emotionally resonant as a blueprint. ( )
  ShelfMonkey | Jul 7, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0676977642, Hardcover)

In his first novel, Stanley Park, Taylor brought readers into the inner workings of the Vancouver culinary scene, writing evocatively about everything from divine local ingredients to kitchen politics. In Story House, he takes on the rarefied world of architectural design – with some boxing, fishing and reality TV thrown in.

Graham and Elliot Gordon are half-brothers, six months apart, the only sons of Packer Gordon, a famous architect. Graham is the natural son of Packer and his wife. Elliot is the product of Packer’s dalliance with a mistress. The boys are openly hostile towards each other, always have been, and when they reach their mid-teens, Packer decides they will settle their differences in a boxing ring. He takes them to Pogey Nealon, a retired fighter who runs a gym out of the basement of his house on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. There, after eight weeks of training, the brothers box three rounds that will change their lives forever, as their father watches it all from a distance far greater than ringside: through the lens of his Bolex camera.

Some twenty-odd years later, both Pogey and Packer are dead, and it comes to light that Pogey’s house – the scene of Graham and Elliot’s pivotal battle – was likely an early design of Packer Gordon. Now deserted, the boarded-up building is home only to decades-worth of Pogey’s papers and film reels, and a slow rot that eats away at the walls. Graham is an architect himself, gaining recognition not only for his last name but his own work; he’s recently separated from his wife Esther and at a loss for how to make things work. Elliot is an importer of counterfeit brand-name products who works out of an old hotel on Hastings, and is married to a beautiful woman named Deirdre who gave up architecture to raise their young twins. The brothers’ paths have only crossed twice in the intervening years, and for both, that was twice too many.

In spite of their differences, which have only been magnified over time, Graham and Elliot agree to cooperate in restoring the house at 55 Mary Street, with enthusiastic help from the producer of the hit reality TV show Unexpected Architecture. It’s a seemingly doomed venture, but will make for great television. And as the plans for preserving Packer Gordon’s legacy begin to come together, there’s not only a surprising amount of collaboration, but cautious optimism that they might just pull it off. Yet nobody is prepared for what actually takes place when the cameras roll.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:13 -0400)

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