The Household Spirit: A Novel

Paperback | September 6, 2016

byTod Wodicka

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Although they’ve lived side by side in the only two houses on Route 29 in rural upstate New York for over twenty years, Howie Jeffries—avid fisherman, accidental recluse—and Emily Phane—seemingly well-adjusted college student—have never actually spoken to each other. Both have their reasons: Howie is debilitatingly shy, and Emily has been hiding the fact that she suffers from a nighttime affliction that makes her terrified to go to sleep. But one day, when they least expect it, their worlds finally intersect. A most curious—and curiously funny—novel about two unlikely comrades-in-arms, The Household Spirit is a story about how little we know the people we see every day—and the depths and foibles of the human heart.

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From the Publisher

Although they’ve lived side by side in the only two houses on Route 29 in rural upstate New York for over twenty years, Howie Jeffries—avid fisherman, accidental recluse—and Emily Phane—seemingly well-adjusted college student—have never actually spoken to each other. Both have their reasons: Howie is debilitatingly shy, and Emily has b...

Tod Wodicka was born in Glens Falls, New York. He is the author of All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well. He lives in Los Angeles.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.7 inPublished:September 6, 2016Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307388646

ISBN - 13:9780307388643

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Read from the Book

Part One   The Creep     Ever since Howie Jeffries could remember, people had been asking him if anything was wrong. It was his face, mostly. The last face on earth. First, as a small boy, he assumed that something must be wrong and this frightened him. Later, realizing that maybe he himself was wrong, Howie would say that he guessed he was just having a bad day. Weeks, months, then years of bad days. Finally, he gave up and when called to account for his woeful demeanor, merely shrugged. “Cheer up,” people told him, “it’ll never happen.”   But Howie’s face was always happening. Even now, at fifty. There, he thought, staring into the bathroom mirror. Still happening.   He washed his hands.   The last face on earth was how his ex-wife had once described the gaunt, arboreal lonesomeness of his features. “I love it to bits,” she assured him. Probably he was supposed to be alone.   Howie dried his hands.   This was still his family’s house in the same way a story still belongs to its characters even if most of them are dead by the end. Howie Jeffries’s wife and his daughter were not dead, they just lived elsewhere and with other people. Sometimes, when falling asleep, he still heard the clattering, indigestive sounds the kitchen made when his wife cooked. Or, getting dressed, he’d recall how his wife rolled his socks into tight, tiny animals. Open the sock drawer and there they were, waiting. Howie once had a drawer devoted entirely to socks. He’d remember their wall calendar, how they’d present themselves before it, peer into it together, his wife writing in her red and green and black markers, commanding Howie to watch—participate—as she explained the future. Generally speaking, the future was Howie’s fault.   She left him for a man who knew how to talk about her feelings and who, moreover, was named Timmy, not Tim or Timothy. Timmy had introduced notions like potential. Timmy wasn’t content to sit and grow old and potentially die of freaking boredom night after night, now was he? Timmy was knowledgeable about things that happened in other languages. He was a painter of houses, landscapes. He was eight years younger than Howie and his wife.   The divorce was a swift, anesthetized procedure. Three lawyers, his and hers. His wife had a new signature to go along with her new dress, her bright, naked fingers. Signing here and here and, right, good, and just there too, please. OK. Howie writing his name slowly, meticulously, as if there might yet be a reprieve, an on second thought, going so far as to include his neglected middle name for those three extra marital seconds. Victor. His great-grandfather’s name, his uncle’s too, stalling there between the Howard and the Jeffries. VICTOR.   Howie had been thirty, his daughter, nearly five. Twenty years later and none of them had died, not of freaking boredom or otherwise. They were all OK now.   Howie and his daughter, were friends on the internet computer. He loved Harriet but was unsure as to whether he knew her, and he wondered if this made a difference. But good for her, he often thought, unable to attach any weight to the locution as he slid down through Harri’s Facebook life in New York City. Good for you. Sounding, he knew, not unlike his own father and the bloodless there-you-go’s the old man reserved for the people who had disappointed him most.   Because, really, why impose? Why say anything at all?   Howie brushed his teeth. Four in the morning and he’d forgotten the toothpaste again. He smiled as if someone were standing behind him, a woman in the mirror, a wife who appreciated this small, endearing hiccup in his hygienic routine. Howie, you goofball. Her arms around his waist.   Some years ago at the GE company picnic, Howie had been drinking beer with his co-workers and their spouses, one of whom had been holding a little boy. Ever attuned to such things, Howie had tried to minimize his face. The boy stared. Nothing wrong, Howie wanted to explain. It’s just me. This is what I look like. Then someone had said something funny and Howie, trying not to laugh, couldn’t help smiling. The kid, a toddler, had recoiled as if slapped. Everyone pretended to get a kick out of this, even Howie. Later, the boy’s mother pulled Howie aside. “Kids,” she said. “Howie, sweetie, I’m so embarrassed. I guess your smile just rattled him.” Like this was an obvious thing, something long accepted, past the point of discussion. Howie Jeffries had a rattling smile.   Still, small children generally liked him, dogs and elderly women, too. Folks with disabilities. His daughter once said that he had a distinguished face. Try and remember that. But just the fact that Harri had told him this out of the blue, as if in conclusion to some long-running internal debate—yeah, distinguished, actually—well, why even say it?   Howie flossed.   He was not, he knew, an unhappy man. What had he ever done with these hands that he should be ashamed of? Things needed doing, you do them. You treat folks like you expect to be treated back. Howie had never found a good or bad reason to believe in God and believed only that things were getting too noisy and that most people were insane.   He had only just returned from his night shift at the General Electric Waste Water Treatment Plant in Schenectady, New York. He enjoyed the forty-five-minute commute. The road at night was where Howie made the most sense to himself. In fact, had he put more stock in self-determination or the pursuit of happiness, he surely would have been a long-haul truck driver. Instead, he’d been with GE for exactly thirty years, something he knew only because his co-workers had recently started teasing him with the possibility of an anniversary party.   “Just when you least expect it,” Steve Dube had said. “Jeffries, you do know we’re going to party the shit out of you this time, right? Thirty years, champ. Shit is for real. This time we mean it.”   They didn’t, of course. The guys just really liked threatening Howie with large social events. Each year as his birthday approached, he’d be put on warning. Shit could be lurking behind any door. Threatening to celebrate Howie was their way of celebrating Howie. There were worse things, he supposed, than being misidentified as someone who might be killed by a surprise party.   Howie had been working two weeks of day shifts followed by two weeks of night shifts for thirty years. His ex-wife had insisted that this was part of his problem, by which she meant her problem with him. The way he willfully curled his life around a different clock than everyone else.   Howie recoiled at the intimacy of his own blood. He’d gotten carried away with the flossing again.   Howie spit.   Howie turned off the bathroom light but continued to stand at the sink. Darkness emboldened the sound of his breathing, his heart. Would you listen to that. Crickets and a far-off dog. Dogs? Owls.   Howie approached the bathroom window. He allowed his eyes time to adjust. The treetops moved as if the air had slowed and thickened into water. Pines, mostly, but some elm. There was no moon. Then there was: hard, white, and rolling from behind a bank of silver clouds. He focused on his neighbor’s house, its weak glow. Beyond this, the dark.   And he saw her. She was moving along the edge of the woods like you might pace beside a pool you’re not quite ready to jump into. Then, just when Howie began to think that maybe she wouldn’t tonight, she did. She was gone, into the forest, leaving only the slightest splash of night behind her. That and Howie, his face against the bathroom window.

Editorial Reviews

“Funny and surprising.” —The New Yorker“Both unsentimental and strangely moving. . . . Comic, poignant and wholly convincing.”  —The Independent (UK)“Wry and touching. . . . Perfectly formed.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune   “Wodicka is known to be LOL funny. But when he does sad, it’s the best fiction around by miles, full of tender ache and tenderer beauty.” —Artforum“Wodicka gives the story a genuinely characterful allure . . . painting a tender and intimate portrait of [his characters’] inner lives that affectingly burrows under the skin. Nor is there much to fault in the author's acute powers of observation. . . . As a fable about the mutual comfort of strangers . . . its generosity of spirit is undeniable.” —The Sunday Times (London)   “Singular among novels about depressed people in that it is neither boring nor depressing.” —Esquire   “Irreverently funny. . . . The Household Spirit is a heartwarming story of loneliness and connection.” —Financial Times   “When I read Tod Wodicka’s novel, it was as if somewhere in its core there was a light that glowed out onto me. It was an extraordinary experience. An extraordinary book.” —Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture   “Strange and rich and precisely pitched. . . . Wodicka’s fluid, expressive prose—dotted with quotable observations often as odd as his players—serves well his weaving of such a convincing, unexpected story.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)   “An affecting portrait of lonely misfits.” —The New York Times Book Review   “The Household Spirit is very special. There’s a pleasing familiarity to it but it’s also fresh, funny and unpredictable.” —Roddy Doyle, author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha   “Achingly beautiful and unexpectedly hilarious.” —BookPage   “The Household Spirit, is deeply, refreshingly uncool. It is both quiet and sneakily psychedelic: swirling around and burrowing inside the lives of its two characters.” —Tank Magazine   “Powerful . . . Wodicka reveals his characters unflinchingly, in all their strangeness, and never loses sight of their frailties and loves—until we know exactly who they are and love them too. Unique and surprising, The Household Spirit is beautifully told.” —Sadie Jones, author of The Uninvited Guests   “Touching. . . . . A novel well worth reading.” —Publishers Weekly   “A profound meditation upon existence, the demons that haunt our subconscious, and the fragile solace to be found in human relationships. Wodicka writes with a winningly idiosyncratic combination of brio and tenderness.” —Clare Wigfall, author of The Loudest Sound and Nothing   “Finely nuanced details and multi-layered dark comedy are Wodicka’s strong suits. . . . Route 29 may be an insignificant thoroughfare in fictional Queens Falls, but Wodicka elevates its prominence, navigating a poignant, revelatory story on the road to the liberating nature of truth and friendship.” —Shelf Awareness   “Rarely have I been so captivated by a novel—its compassion, wisdom, warmth. I loved it.”  —Nathan Filer, author of The Shock of the Fall (Winner of the Costa Book of the Year and the Betty Trask Prize)