Monday, April 26, 2010

Peter Bognanni’s debut novel links coming of age with architectural history in a fascinating tale.

I know a little about the famous architect Buckminster Fuller, the originator of the concept of the geodesic dome. Well this novel is told from the perspective of a young boy who grows up in such a dome. To say it has shaped his perspective on the world would be a ridiculous understatement.

The House of Tomorrow

The House of Tomorrow (368 pages, Amy Einhorn Books, $24.95), Peter Bognanni’s debut novel, tells the story of sixteen-year-old Sebastian Prendergast, who has grown up with his grandmother in one of the only geodesics domes in central Iowa. His parents, it turns out, were killed in a plane crash when he was young, and his grandmother, a student and devotee of Buckminster Fuller, has brought him up in the dome she built under the influence of the master. She has also decided that he will take his place as the Fullerian visionary who will save the world.

Before saving the world, however, he has to help her run the dome from day to day. This means keeping it clean—he has devised a system of suction cups that help him to crawl all over the surface for the purposes of cleaning all the triangular panes of glass—and working in the gift shop when people stop by for tours, which they do almost daily.

On one fateful day early in the novel, Janice Whitcomb, a divorced mother of two, brings her younger son, Jared—a gothed out punk who has undergone serious heart surgery by the age of sixteen—to see the dome. As they begin their tour, and Sebastian is eyeing young Jared and trying to figure out his foul-mouthed and nasty attitude to the world, Sebastian’s grandmother collapses with a stroke, and they all end up in the hospital waiting room together.

While Janice tries to find out about Nana’s condition, Sebastian and Jared make the first steps toward friendship. Sebastian is fascinated with Jared’s look and his anger, and Jared can’t resist making fun of the way the home-schooled Sebastian forms his sentences and expresses his feelings. Before long, they forge a tentative friendship, and Sebastian is sneaking onto the computer to communicate with Jared and find out what is this punk music he is always talking about.

Through a series of accidents and misunderstandings—Sebastian and his grandmother have a falling out after she comes back from the hospital—Sebastian ends up living with the Whitcombs for several weeks. He and Jared become really close through their attempts to start a band—Jared can play guitar and sing expressively, and he takes it upon himself to teach Sebastian bass guitar and back up. This is a painful process, to be sure, but Sebastian takes to it like a duck to water. He is not terribly good—it takes him ages to find how he can make a decent sound on the bass—but he is enthralled with the process, the music, Jared, and even Jared’s sister, Meredith.

The novel is peppered with the insights of Buckminster Fuller, and while Sebastian is off with the Whitcombs—whose family seems set in meltdown mode—Nana is busy trying to cover her geodesic dome with a map of the world: she wants to complete a model that Fuller had proposed. Sebastian turns to Fuller to help him explain the confusions in which he finds himself. He is struggling with lustful feelings for Meredith, real hopes for his friendship with Jared, and guilt and unhappiness about his grandmother. Can theories of the dome make any sense of all these problems?

In a sense, it does. Or at least, it brings everything together under a living, pulsing, visionary cover. This is a deeply felt and wildly imaginative novel. I recommend this exciting new voice in fiction.

Peter Bognanni

Pick it up at Vroman's, Powell's or Amazon.

No comments:

Post a Comment