The Goodbye House
In the 1960s, when I was less than ten years old, I had two sets of aunts and uncles who lived on the same block in San José, California. Their houses were on opposite sides of the street, and they were mirror images of each other, with the same floor plan. I loved visiting those houses, playing with my cousins, seeing my grandmother who came over from Saratoga.
I went back to that street for the first time in decades in 2003, looking for a story. And one of the things that struck me was how evident it was that those who lived there loved and cared for their homes. Gardens were tended, roofs were new, paint was fresh. While it was clearly a housing tract filled with uniform single story bungalows, it was, just as clearly, a beloved place.
I wanted to write a story set in the suburbs that didn’t partake of the normal stereotypes of suburban life – cultural homogeneity, repressive social norms, isolation from the business of making a living, the need to keep up appearances. I wanted to write a story that would be recognizable to all those who lived today in the houses on that block in San José, those who have made it their home.
I also wanted to write a story that didn’t present the suburbs as a place outside of history. While The Goodbye House is not a sequel, it’s easy to see how characters from my earlier work could inhabit the world of this novel. The characters who were children in The Blossom Festival, who grew up during the Depression, could easily be grandparents now, living in a three-bedroom ranch in San José. And the housing tracts themselves are built on the bulldozed orchards and vineyards that spread across the Santa Clara Valley in the first half of the twentieth century.
The houses built in the 1950s once symbolized a kind of promised land for those who had gone through World War II. But in the autumn of 2003, the world around those houses had changed completely from when they were built. The first dot-com bubble had burst, the nation had been attacked on 9/11, wars were underway and being planned.
The story I ended up writing is about a fractured family of several generations, every member of the family trying to discover his or her place in a changing world. And for each of them, their place is connected with a simple tract home in Silicon Valley.
In The Goodbye House, the landscape is so keenly observed, and the emotions so deeply felt, one cannot help but be drawn into this complex family drama. Coates writes with clarity and grace, solidifying his place in the canon of great California literature.—Michelle Richmond
Coates delivers a broad piece of American life—no mere slice here—in a book so warm, funny, and readable that you won’t realize the construction is so complex. Funny, smart, and beautifully fluid—a story you won’t forget.—Lydia Netzer
Lawrence Coates’s wonderful new novel is a deft family drama set against the ever-mutable backdrop of Santa Clara Valley. Told with compassion, stunning human insight, and brilliant flashes of humor, The Goodbye House follows a struggling family whose once golden dreams have faded amid the surrounding jackpot culture of start-ups and dot-coms.
This is a wise, smart, and poignant novel.—Don Waters