Three Story House
When eight-year-old Lizzie’s mother married Jim, she gained not only a stepfather, but dozens of cousins in the process. As the only child of an only child, Lizzie and her mother had lived with her grandmother in her big house on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi in Memphis. Her whole life changed when Jim entered the picture. The best part for young Lizzie was gaining two cousins her own age, Isobel and Elyse, who became more like sisters. She also was grateful for Jim, who was a wonderful stepfather, making up for the fact that she never knew her real father.
Now, on the verge of turning 30, these young women are at a different place in their lives, but all are at a crossroads. Lizzie plays professional soccer and fosters Olympic dreams --- or at least she did until she blew out her ACL for the third time. Even after surgery and intensive physical therapy, it’s still a big “if” as to whether or not she’ll be ready in time for the team’s tryouts, much less the Olympic trials. Moping on Isobel’s couch in Los Angeles, Lizzie gets a call from her mother, who’s now living with Jim in Russia doing missionary work with their church. In the years since Lizzie’s grandmother passed away and her mother has been abroad, the beloved house on the river has fallen into disrepair. Despite the strained relationship she has with her mother, Lizzie is charged with (or rather guilted into) returning to Memphis in order to save Grandma Mellie’s house from the wrecking ball.
"If Jodi Picoult or Joshilyn Jackson and HGTV had a baby in book form, it would be THREE STORY HOUSE."
Isobel has been living in L.A. and working as an actress. Or at least she did. She had some success early on as the star of a TV sitcom, but the roles have dried up lately. Luckily she owns her duplex and lives mostly on the income from the portion she rents out. When Lizzie tells Isobel about the situation with her grandmother’s home, Isobel offers to accompany her and help out. Why stay in L.A. just to be reminded how she’snot working? She and Lizzie can go and hopefully oversee whatever needs to be done in the house, and Lizzie can do her physical therapy there. Sounds like a plan. But what is it they say about “best laid plans”?
Once they arrive, the girls see how truly dilapidated Spite House has become. Yes, Lizzie’s grandmother’s home was called “Spite House,” a term used in building and architecture about places built with no discernible plan or to purposefully “spite” someone, whether it be to annoy an ornery neighbor or a nosy town-planning commission. These homes exist to aggravate someone. And by the looks of it, Isobel and Lizzie are going to be plenty aggravated. First and foremost, it’s barely inhabitable, and they have to jump through the first of many hoops to even be able to enter the building, much less start work on it and live there during the reconstruction. With the recommendation of a local contractor, they are set to work. It’s going to be a long, arduous process, but maybe the time away from their real lives will be good for Lizzie and Isobel.
Into this already chaotic mix comes Elyse, the third cousin in this trio. Fleeing Boston just ahead of her younger sister’s wedding, she shows up at Spite House with very little in the way of explanation. She soon relates to the other girls that she couldn’t be in Boston because her sister is marrying the only man Elyse has ever loved, and her heart is broken. So convinced that she is meant to be with him, she has sent him letters and emails with ominous messages like “You’re making a mistake” without ever revealing that it’s her sending them.
As the work progresses on the house and with each day, a visible transformation is becoming evident, not only in the house, but within each woman.
If Jodi Picoult or Joshilyn Jackson and HGTV had a baby in book form, it would be THREE STORY HOUSE. Engaging, charming and enjoyable, fans of the aforementioned authors, as well as those of Kristin Hannah, Sue Monk Kidd and Beth Hoffman will revel in Courtney Miller Santo’s story, tautly told, of women on the verge of monumental change and how they adjust to the vagaries of life.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on August 22, 2014