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The Irresistible Henry House: A Novel by…
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The Irresistible Henry House: A Novel

by Lisa Grunwald

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5376128,189 (3.5)18
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Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
Henry is an orphan who was provided to a local college to serve as a practice baby for their home economics program. The young women in the classes, supervised by prim teacher Martha, will learn proper child-rearing techniques; then Henry will be returned to the orphanage to be adopted. But in this case, Henry ends up staying. What are the effects of being raised as a human guinea pig in a simulacrum of reality? That's the question this book seeks to answer.

Author Lisa Grunwald certainly found an interesting premise for her book and the postwar Baby Boom era in which the novel is set provides a lot of material. Her assessment of the kind of narcissism and detachment that would result are pretty consistent with what we now know about how important early childhood attachments are for development. I would have liked more about the conflict between the strict, mechanistic parenting style recommended by early 20th century experts and the revolutionary changes made by Dr. Spock and his contemporaries. I think that would have made it a little more clear why Martha was singularly unsuited to be a mother substitute for a boy who was experiencing so much rejection already, and why she couldn't recognize this until it was too late.

I enjoyed Grunwald's writing style, and even a late detour into the Disney animation studios of the 1960s which might have seemed superfluous was well done. A diverting read. ( )
  sophroniaborgia | Feb 26, 2019 |
A sad and shockingly painful examination of love, trust and betrayal, that reads a bit like a coming of age story, a bit like American women's history, a bit like the child development 201 class I took one semester, and in a much bigger bit, like a lecture in the development and devastating effect of narcissism on someone and on those who love them. I would have given it five stars if not for the often recurring feeling that I am reading a psychology textbook instead of a novel. ( )
  Gezemice | Oct 29, 2018 |
Irresistible Henry House, Lisa Grunwald

★ ★

Apparently in 1919 Cornell University began a trend in Home Economics called "Practice Babies" who all came from a local orphanage & were later adopted out... Young college women would take Home Economics to study & practice, chemistry, physics, mechanics, cooking, cleaning, & baby raising. The program went on until 1969.

So this book is about Henry, who was the child of the Dean's daughter by a man other than her husband and was eventually given over to the Practice House Mother to raise as her own.

It would have been nice to like Henry, but lets face it, he hated his adoptive mother, he hated his mother, & he used women... he was a sexually promiscuous misogynist. The author tries to make her readers sympathetic/empathetic towards Henry, but I for one would have like to slap him silly.

In a fit of defiance, Henry decides to become mute... so he is sent to the "Custodial Asylum for Unteachable Idiots" a.k.a. "Humphrey Asylum for the Feeble Minded" a.k.a. "Humphrey School for Mental Defectives"... which had me wondering what kind of person names a school that aims to help those in need such assholic titles?

So Henry, hates his adopted mother for never telling him the whole truth, hates his mother for disposing of him, & uses women sexually & emotionally by plying them with his charms & charisma...

So Henry starts out in Pennsylvania, then to the asylum in Connecticut as he has (purposely) become "mute" yet excels at art, then to N.Y. where his birth mother is working for the Times & living w/ one of his practice mothers, then to CA to work for Walt Disney on Mary Poppins, then to London to work for the Beatles on Yellow Submarine, to Paris to face off his birth mother one last time, & back to N.Y. to his "one true love".

Somehow everywhere he goes he finds a connection & seduces women.... and we are to fawn over Henry...

The book was too long for me, the characters particularly bent, odious, & unrealistic. As I stated, I'd like to have been able to beat the holy crap out of Henry, such a narcissistic p.o.s.

I will tell you this, it was a compelling read & I finished it in one day.... I wanted Henry to redeem himself (because of all the many, many opportunities he had to do so), but in my opinion: as a human being, Henry was as an unrepentant narcissistic failure. ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Aug 8, 2018 |
Another book with a really promising start and a disappointing ending. I loved the first chapters, even if they did make me want another baby, but I started disliking Henry more and more the older he got, and by the end I was getting awfully tired of him bedding every woman within a ten-mile radius. And I was totally put off by the way he treated poor Martha. Yes, I get it, she lied to you. She also showered love on you for years and did her absolute best to raise you properly. So now that she's dying of cancer, you could maybe get over yourself a little bit, Henry. The fact that I am still ticked off at a fictional character two days after finishing the book is probably a tribute to Lisa Grunwald's skill as a writer. But I think I disliked him more than she really intended me to, and it's difficult for me to imagine he would ever make a good life partner. Run, Mary Jane! Run like the wind! ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
I adored this, although I thought the end was a teensy bit weak. But it's one of those books that is so breezy and fun to read that until you're sobbing or laughing hysterically, you have no idea what a strong effect it really has. Poor Martha. I ached for her.

Great book on parenting, attachment, mothering, adoption, and loss. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
To the ranks of iconic mid-century modern men Gump and Garp, add The Irresistible Henry House. As imagined by Lisa Grunwald, inspired by the peculiar beginnings of a real baby, Henry's life unspools with more realism and intention than Gump's, with less a sense of dread than Garp's. But Henry and his story have the same almost-magic magnetism. . . . The multidimensional generations of women in his life make a fascinating microcosm of the cultural revolution that redefined the expectations of all American women in the latter half of the 20th century. But it's Henry's struggle to define the desires of his own heart that propels this story, culminating in a scene as transcendent as Carver's Cathedral.
added by lisagrunwald | editAmazon Best Book of the Month, Mari Malcolm (Mar 1, 2010)
 
Starred review, Pick of the Week. Like T.S. Garp, Forrest Gump or Benjamin Button, Henry House, the hero of Grunwald’s imaginative take on a little known aspect of American academic life, has an unusual upbringing...With cameos by Dr. Benjamin Spock, Walt Disney and John Lennon, and locations ranging from a peaceful college campus to swinging 1960s London, Grunwald nails the era just as she ingeniously uses Henry and the women in his life to illuminate the heady rush of sexual freedom (and confusion) that signified mid-century life.
added by lisagrunwald | editPublisher's Weekly (Oct 5, 2009)
 
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For my son, Jonathan Grunwald Adler, with love and wonder
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By the time Henry House was four months old, a copy of his picture was being carried in the pocketbooks of seven different women, each of whom called him her son.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In the mid-twentieth century in a home economics program at a prominent university, real babies are being used to teach mothering skills to young women. For a young man raised in these unlikely circumstances, finding real love and learning to trust will prove to be the work of a lifetime. From his earliest days as a "practice baby" through his adult adventures in 1960s New York City, Disney's Burbank studios, and the delirious world of the Beatles' London, Henry House remains handsome, charming, universally adored--and never entirely accessible to the many women he conquers but can never entirely trust.… (more)

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