Location, Location, Location: The Hundred-Year House, by Rebecca Makkai


     “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  Robert Frost’s poem resonates throughout the backward tale of Rebecca Makkai’s novel, The Hundred-Year House.  The tale opens in 1999 at Laurelfield, estate and former arts colony owned by the imminent Devohr family when Zee, a Devohr, and her husband move into the carriage house.  Mysteries abound.  What is that hole in the carriage house kitchen wall?  What’s in the attic of the main house?  Why do the eyes of the portrait in the dining room follow you?  Is the house itself trying to bring lovers together or force them apart?

    More secrets, mysteries and some answers are revealed as Makkai leads the reader from the most recent past through the decades to the past.  The second section of The Hundred-Year House backpedals to1955, the third in the 1920s and ultimately, to the conception and construction of the location in 1900.

     The Hundred-Year House, Makkai’s second novel, was on my list of best reads of 2014.  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/2014-in-review/  It’s one of those novels that sort of defies an explanation.  The house is a character, much like Hogwarts is a character, that appears to precipitate action, even pulling lovers together.  It’s at times spooky, funny, contemplative, romantic.

     At the beginning of the novel, the inhabitants are stocking up for Y2K, semi-convinced that a basement full of canned goods and an old Chevy will allow them to reach the 21st Century unscathed.  At the turn of the 20th Century at the end of the novel, Augustus Devohr finds the land upon which he will build Laurelfield and decides that this is something “he’s always been meant to see. . . . ‘What is the opposite of memory?’ he wonders, “‘what is the inverse of an echo?'”  By reversing time in the narrative, The Hundred-Year House creates mysteries which can be solved by knowledge of the past.  Throughout, she muses on art, artists, identity, fate and love.


     Although Makkai’s prose consistently sings, my favorite passages are those about love.

What was all this, but a modern tower of Babel?  Here was someone speaking nothing but dance, and someone else speaking nothing but paint, and someone speaking poetry, and someone speaking music.  And what were they trying to express, but the inexpressible?  If there existed words, regular words, to say what they were aiming at, then why would they ever need to do what they did?  Why were they all living here, knocking so ineffectively at the doors of the palace?  The ink was as insufficient as anything else, but perhaps it was a start.  If he’d been a sculptor, he’d have sculpted it for them: Look! There!  Love.

   Rebecca Makkai visited my hometown for the Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference last fall and gave one of the best talks during the weekend on how to write a great novel ending.  I really enjoyed her talk, and I really enjoyed her book.  I think your book club would as well.


   Thanks to The David Blagh for some ideas.  http://leitesculinaria.com/10348/writings-dining-through-the-decades-american-food-history.html,

   Since The Hundred-Year House visits from distinct time periods, I would create a menu from those four decades, moving from 1999 to 1900 as the novel does.

1999 — Appetizer

Cosmopolitans (thank you Carrie Bradshaw)

Low-Carb was the diet of the year in Time Magazine, so I’d serve chicken tikka skewers with peanut sauce


I have a lovely old cookbook published in 1959 by the Louisville Courier-Journal entitled Cissy Gregg’s Cookbook, Volume 2.  My grandmother swears by two things:  the Bible and Cissy Gregg.  Most of the salads featured in this cookbook involve mayonnaise and/or gelatin but this recipe for Overnight Fruit Salad does not, and I believe I remember having it.


Overnight Fruit Salad

1 cup seedless grapes, halved

1 cup cherries, pitted (CIssy notes she uses white cherries)

6 marshmallows, cut in eighths (of course, now we have mini-marshmallows — I’ll use those)

1/8 pound cashews, chopped

1 cup diced pineapple

1 egg

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons half and half

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Combine fruits, marshmallows and nuts.  Beat egg until light and foamy.  Add sugar gradually.  Blend in half and half and lemon juice.  Place egg mixture in a saucepan and cook over low heat or over hot water (in a double boiler) until the sauce is smooth and thickened, stirring constantly.  Cool.  Fold in whipped cream.  Pour over combined fruits and nuts and mix lightly.  Chill overnight in the refrigerator.



Fingerfood.  The 20s were the birth of the cocktail party so I’d go to Trader Joe’s and snap up some goodies.


Brownie’s.  Here’s my grandmother’s recipe.

1/3 cup Crisco

1 cup sugar

2 well-beaten eggs

2 1 oz squares of chocolate melted

3/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup broken nut meats

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream sugar and Crisco.  Add egg, beat well.  Add chocolate and blend.  Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth.  Stir in nuts and vanilla.  Pour into paper lied 8 inch pans.  Bake 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Cut into bars.


1999, Prince and the Revolution

Rock Around the Clock, Bill Haley & the Comets (from 1955)

Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin, 1920s

Swanne River, Stephen Foster (1900)

Here’s a few more top songs from 1900, since that’s pretty obscure.  http://tsort.info/music/yr1900.htm

Happy Reading & Eating!