Originally published in 1998, this novel takes us into the lives and minds of the occupants of three separate households: a dollhouse, a house occupied by a family in the 1950s, and the cottage of Edwina Moss, a 19th century domestic management expert. Each family has their foibles and exists in a surreal landscape of tragedy and confusion. As individuals from the various families try to sort through what is happening in their Philadelphia town as well as in their own families and thoughts, the reader learns that there has been, among other things, a murder, a stroke, a hurricane, and a series of dachshunds named Noodle.
Davis, an award winning novelist, has created another rich book filled with the stuff literary novels are made of. Ferreting out the symbolism, themes, and purpose requires active participation and more than one read-through. The unfolding of the characters’ stories follows no specific order. Time, place and narrator meld together placing the reader at the same level of confusion and anxiety as the characters. More than a novel, this book is a puzzle with the pieces seemingly scrambled. As more details are disclosed, the distinctions between the households become clearer and the relationships between them begin to be revealed. Although never fully disclosed, the motivation for some of the characters’ seemingly self-defeating actions can finally be understood.
Peppered with literary and biblical references, Hell is an enjoyable, intelligent novel and is highly recommended for literary fiction readers.