Lee Matalone’s promising, poetic first novel traces the story of Cybil—a Japanese orphan of World War II, adopted by an American family—and her daughter, Chloe, who lives in Virginia and moves into a new home when she separates from her husband.
The author’s conceit is to construct the drama by inspecting Chloe’s new house room by room. Chloe’s friend Beau, a Louisiana-born gay sculptor and college professor, helps her in this task as she slowly paints and decorates her nondescript home. Her mother watches from afar. Both Cybil and Beau warn that creating a living environment is temporary; “the decay,” says Beau, is “impatiently waiting to begin.” Matalone observes that “part of building a house necessitates living in denial that it would ever fall apart.”
That’s true, of course, for relationships and for lives. Chloe’s estranged husband seems to be falling apart. When he is diagnosed with cancer, he insists she move out, because “we must remember this house in its complete happiness.” It is unclear how much this directive is influenced by an affair Chloe enters into.
Some of the best scenes occur in the bathroom, where Chloe and Beau gather with no self-consciousness to chat. They have a strange intimacy. They do not have sex, but they conceive a child together. The result is a boy named Ru. It is not stated, but the name could be short for Ruelle, which is the space between a bed and a wall, a space where Chloe liked to sleep as a child.
Home Making is short on action, long on furniture and color schemes, and Matalone misses the opportunity to delve into Chloe’s mixed ancestry. When the house is complete, it is time for Chloe to move on. It will be interesting to see where Matalone herself moves from here.