A House Named Brazil
Fran Mourne is nearly 40. When she was seven, her father left home. At 16, her mother abandoned her. Feeling freakish, Fran has learned how to cope. She graduated from high school, found a job that allowed her to indulge her antisocial inclinations, and lived complacently in her family home with cats, peacocks, and her grandmother’s corpse in the barn for company. At age 19, however, Fran was forced to reexamine her life when her mother unexpectedly called with the sole purpose of passing on oral recitations of the family history. These stories, relayed through a series of evening telephone calls from a secret location, ultimately helped Fran discover her own abilities and finally come to terms with her parents’ strange behavior.
Schulman’s technique of flipping between Fran’s present, youth, and family stories effectively conveys the frustration Fran feels as her mother doles out the tales in no apparent order while being quite stingy with the details of her own life. The interaction between Fran and her mother and Fran’s introspection tend to be less engaging than the family stories. As we learn more about the family’s history, these sections make more sense, but they never really stir the emotions like the fascinating tales of pickpockets, entrepreneurs, and adventurers — many of whom come to make their home in Brazil, a large house in the Florida swamps. The family tree and photographs are included between chapters, making it easy to follow the winding tales. Readers interested in peeking into an eccentric and rather dysfunctional family of the 19th and early 20th centuries will enjoy this book.