Mameve Medwed's HOST FAMILY seems at first glance to be a
typical novel of a woman at mid-life. I assure you it most
certainly is not.Daisy's husband Henry announces to her one night that he is
leaving her for a younger woman. Worse, this young woman from
France is the student they are hosting through Harvard's host
family program. At first, Daisy runs to visit her oldest friend,
Jessica, in whose company she begins to fall apart. However, her
life starts changing the very next morning at the hospital where
Henry has been admitted with a case of food poisoning.At
the hospital, Daisy meets a parasitologist named Truman Wolff, who
is giving a lecture on host families and parasites. Daisy finds
herself pouring her heart out to Truman in the hospital cafeteria.
They begin dating almost immediately and eventually he moves in
with her. Truman's daughter, Phoebe, is even dating Daisy's son,
Sammy.Things start disintegrate when Phoebe leaves Sammy for Andrea,
the Italian exchange student they are hosting. When this happens,
Daisy's loyalty to Sammy overrides her love for Truman, and she
kicks him out of the house.Throughout this novel, Medwed weaves metaphors comparing
relationships to parasites of every sort: lice, tapeworms, even
computer viruses. Truman is passionate about his work and he can
draw a comparison between just about anything and a parasite.
Daisy's ex-husband Henry is the same way about computer viruses.
The entire family manages to get lice from an old host student at a
Harvard function. The parasite provides an appropriate metaphor for
this novel, given the way people seem to go from one relationship
to another, and the way the original nuclear family of Daisy and
Henry manages to grow through the course of the novel. In a way, it
even describes Daisy's relationship with her son. At times I must
confess I was a bit disgusted by the descriptions of lice. However,
like a parasite, this book grew on me.
Reviewed by Roisin Fagan on January 22, 2011