In author Julia Glass’s latest, character driven novel, A House Among the Trees, Mort Lear, a famous children’s author, vaguely reminiscent of Maurice Sendak, unexpectedly falls to his death off the roof of his Connecticut home in a fluke accident. His longtime, live-in assistant Tomasina (Tommy) is left to pick up the pieces, address his fortune, complete unfinished business and come to terms with their co-dependent relationship. In addition, surprising details of Morty’s past surface causing Tommy to question how well she actually knew him.
When Tommy was a child she saw an eccentric man sketching pictures of her little brother as she watched over him on the playground. She gave the man the ok to continue as long as her brother remained unaware, and years later she came across Mort Lear’s popular children’s book with those familiar illustrations from long ago. As a favor, and to pay her back for allowing him to draw her brother, Mort gives Tommy a job working for him, and 40 years later after setting aside her personal needs and living with Morty in the country, Tommy is left alone.
Mort’s best-selling children’s book has a movie deal, and the unlikely famous, British actor, Nicholas Greene, cast to be the lead, had been in touch with Mort via email, sharing private stories and developing an unprecedented relationship. Both had experienced loss, fame and loneliness in different ways and Nick had been looking forward to continuing to bond with Mort in person prior to his unexpected death. As a courtesy, Tommy agrees to host Nick for a few days and help him get a feel for what Morty’s life was like. Little did she know To her shock and surprise, Nick had learned some personal details of Morty’s past that were very different from what he had shared with her during their lifetime together.
Tommy is faced with processing upetting information about Morty’s youth while hosting Nick at the Connecticut home, giving Merry the museum curator some bad news about artwork she had been expecting to receive, and reconnecting with her estranged brother who was never publicly recognized as the model for Morty’s popular illustrations.
Julia Glass provides well written back story to enrich the detail and provide depth as she weaves her story around the characters. She touches upon issues such as fame and loneliness, nontraditional relationships between adults and children, what we think is owed to us, family, legacy, loyalty and the individual quest for happiness. I enjoyed A House Among the Trees and highly recommend it for book clubs.
As Seen on Goodreads:
From the beloved author of the National Book Award winning Three Junes. The unusual bond between a world-famous children’s author and his assistant sets the stage for a richly plotted novel of friendship and love, artistic ambition, and the power of an unexpected legacy.
When the revered children’s author Mort Lear dies accidentally at the Connecticut home he shares with Tomasina Daulair, his trusted assistant, she is stunned to be left the house and all its contents, as well as being named his literary executor. Though not quite his daughter or his wife, Tommy was nearly everything to the increasingly reclusive Lear, whom she knew for over forty years since meeting him as a child in a city playground where Lear was making sketches for Colorquake, a book that would become an instant classic.
Overwhelmed by the responsibility for Lear’s bequest, she must face the demands of all those affected by the sudden loss, including the lonely, outraged museum curator to whom Lear once promised his artistic estate; the beguiling British actor recently cast to play Lear in a movie; and her own estranged brother. She must also face the demons of Morty’s painful past the subject of that movie and a future that will no longer include him. A visit from the actor leads to revelations and confrontations that challenge much of what Tommy believed she knew about her boss’s life and work and, ultimately, about her own.”
About the Author:
Glass followed Three Junes with a second novel, The Whole World Over, in 2006, set in the same Bank Street–Greenwich Village universe, with three interwoven stories featuring several characters from Three Junes. Her third novel, I See You Everywhere, was published in 2008; her fourth, The Widower’s Tale, in 2010; and her fifth, And the Dark Sacred Night, in 2014.
Glass was born in Boston, grew up in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and attended Concord Academy. She graduated from Yale in 1978. Intending to become a painter, she moved to New York City, where she lived for many years, painting in a small studio in Brooklyn and supporting herself as a free-lance editor and copy editor, including several years in the copy department of Cosmopolitan magazine. She lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts, with her partner, the photographer Dennis Cowley, and their two children, and works as a freelance journalist and editor. She is a previous winner of the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.