Go to Homepage   Matt Ruff: Set this House in Order


Crescent Blues Book ViewsHarper Collins (hardcover), ISBN 0060195622
What happens when two people with Multiple Personality Disorder embark on a road trip to confront the demons of the past? Since each one harbors many selves, numerous combinations of personalities can interact with one another, with unpredictable results.

Book: Matt Ruff, set this h9ouse in order
In Matt Ruff's Set This House in Order, Andrew Gage serves as the public persona of a body containing a host of "souls." Severely abused as a child, the original Andy Gage's soul shattered into many, each possessing memories, needs and an agenda of its own. Years of therapy enabled front man Andrew to conceptualize his headful of personalities as a house, complete with grounds and a lake, in which each soul occupies a room. Outside the house stands a "pulpit," from which the other souls carry on a running commentary about Andrew's activities. Imperfect but workable, Andrew's system starts to crumble when he meets Penny Driver. She has other personalities too, but she doesn't know it. Penny blacks out when the other souls take over, leading to a chaotic and miserable life. As Andrew struggles to rebuild his fragile equilibrium, Penny strives to reach an accord with her own fragmented selves.

Many laypersons and more than a few experts doubt the validity of the Multiple Personality Disorder diagnosis. They view it as a bogus claim by criminals attempting to evade responsibility for their actions. Ruff doesn't concern himself with the controversy, and presents Andrew and Penny as honest-to-god multiples. In a fantastic feat of character development, he not only makes Andrew and Penny vibrant and believable, but each of their alternate personalities as well. When Andrew conducts an internal discussion with Adam, the teen-aged boy soul in the "house," they speak with distinctly different voices. Penny's foul-mouthed "protector" personality, Maledicta, frequently wrests control of the body and wreaks havoc. In the reader's eye, she stands out as a character in her own right.

Book: Matt ruff, fool on the hill
Set This House in Order offers a fun read, but a larger theme permeates the novel. Andrew relies on a carefully constructed but unstable scaffolding of people and places to bolster his tenuous mental health. His landlady, for example, cheerfully fixes a separate breakfast for each of his personalities every morning. As the props get kicked out from under him one by one, Andrew's house falls apart. If he hopes to reestablish control, he must do so without the external supports that ultimately weakened him. But can a victim of Multiple Personality Disorder stand on his own two feet and construct a house that will not collapse?

Ruff's earlier works, Fool on the Hill and Sewer, Gas, & Electric showcased his inventive, quirky imagination. Set This House in Order takes him a step farther. By combining his penchant for the bizarre with engaging and believable characters, Ruff has written a truly memorable story and proves himself an author to watch.

Jodi Forschmiedt

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