May 21, 2011

[TSS] Review: Cleaning Nabokov's House by Leslie Daniels

Barb Barrett, newly divorced and living in upstate New York, is trying to cope with the fact that she has lost custody of her two young children. She has no money, a ratty old car and a part-time job that barely pays anything. She's afraid of what her children are thinking - do they think she's abandoned them? Do they think she doesn't want them to live with her? When she made the decision to leave her controlling husband, she had no idea it would go this badly.

Barb finds a little house to rent that apparently has literary history: the great Vladimir Nabokov used to live there while writing Lolita, listed as number 4 on the Modern Library Top 100 books. While struggling to adjust to only having occasional visitation with her kids, Barb is desperate for her children and begins preparing the extra rooms for their visits. While cleaning the house, she discovers a bundle of index cards with notes written on them - possibly an unfinished manuscript belonging to Nabokov himself.

Barb begins going through the cards, putting the pieces together and realizes its a story about Babe Ruth. The only friend she has in this new town is her mailman's wife, Margie, who just happens to be an agent. Upon Margie's advice, Barb consults an attorney to figure out how to validate her claim that it is, in fact, a manuscript written by Vladimir Nabokov.

In the meantime, Barb realizes that she must get her life back if she plans on getting custody of her children. The first thing she must do is make some money. So she comes up with a plan - to open a whorehouse. That is as far my synopsis goes, because you must read the rest of the story yourself since any synopsis I would write just wouldn't do the story justice.

My thoughts:

If you have not read this book, I'm sure you're scratching your head wondering Why would a woman desperate to get custody of her children back open a cathouse?! That is just one example of the quirkiness of Leslie Daniels' debut novel. I could use so many adjectives to describe this book: odd; funny; sad, witty, dark. But one word stands out among all the others: Original.

From the beginning, I really didn't know if I even liked Barb Barrett. I certainly didn't understand her choices. I could not relate to her at all yet some of the things she did made me laugh out loud. After awhile, there was a sort of endearing quality about her.

I suppose this isn't the type of book that you can take too seriously, and maybe that's my issue. I'm more of a pragmatic person therefore I had trouble with the believability of it. That being said, the characters were very original - even the children had original, quirky personalities.

The part of the story involving Nabokov, however, left me wanting more of it. This is a difficult book for me to sum up due to my mixed feelings. Sometimes I think I really liked it and then others, I'm not really sure. I appreciate the humor and the uniqueness of the book, but I'm still left feeling like I wish I wouldn've liked it more. The only suggestion I have is to read it and judge for yourself.

I do believe that Leslie Daniels is an up-and-coming author to watch out for. She has a style that is interesting and I will be on the look out to see what she comes up with next. Have you read this book? If so, I'd love to know what you thought of it.

Date Published: March 1, 2011
Publisher: Touchstone Books
Pages: 336
Rating: 3 Stars
Source: Jessica Roth, Touchstone Books


  1. I generally like my books grounded in reality but quirky does work for me from time to time, so I just might give this one a try.

  2. After reading your post I will have to read this sometime...sounds interesting and different.

  3. This one was getting rave reviews from booksellers and publishers last October. I still haven't read it, so thank you for reminding me to get at it!

  4. Thanks for the honest review. This does sound interesting. I may need to check this out.

  5. I love quirky and original. Althouhg not perfect, you do have me curious about this one.

  6. I'm not sure what I think of this one.

    And you're right, what mom trying to get her kids opens a cathouse?


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