Recently Amazon.com unrolled a new website, Audible.com. As a promotion they offered two free book downloads, of which I took advantage. With all the driving we do to Nor-Cal it seemed like a good opportunity to take advantage of something we have talked about doing for years- listen to a book on tape during the drive.
The first book we listened to was The Irresistible Henry House. But before I get into the book, I must speak briefly on the experience of listening to a book on tape… er, MP3. It was a little weird. First, when it came to voices the narrator would change his voice to match characters and genders. The women had high voices, some of the men had gruff voices, but they still all had the same underlying voice of the narrator which was odd. Also, it is surprisingly bothersome to hear a conversation and be continually reminded “he said” “she said” “he said” “she said”. And finally, reading sexual or vulgar scenes is very different from listening to them. A book is much more friendly when it comes to skimming, skipping, or ignoring passages. But hearing it in the car was something shocking.
Despite these few drawbacks, listening to the story was very enjoyable. Laura and I found ourselves wondering what was going to happen to Henry next during the times when we were out of the car.
The plot is based on the real practice of college home economics courses using orphan children as practice babies to train future mothers in the art of child rearing. In this story, Henry is an orphan that is brought into a college practice house. And despite the instructors strictest rules, she falls in love with Henry and works a deal to keep him. And so Henry is raised not by a mother and a father, or a single mother, but a constantly rotating group of college girls. And Henry’s siblings are a constantly rotating group of boys and girls (each orphan stays in the practice house until they are 2.)
The book chronicles his experiences in the practice house, at a boarding school, and finally out on his own in New York, California, and London. He is a talented artist who works for Disney illustrating The Jungle Book, then later works on the art for the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine. He is also a talented ladies man who keeps a constantly rotating group of girls at his beck and call.
This book is a Forrest Gump type ride through history, but ultimately, this book is a love story. Henry’s greatest struggle comes from his inability to choose. Instead, he aims to please. As a baby in the practice house he learned how to please each of his “mothers” in a unique way. So too has he learned to please the women in his life. He keeps them happy and separate, keeping each girl on a string, unwilling to let any of them go. Still, it is obvious early on that he has a preference for Mary Jane, the one girl who has been a constant in his life. They weave in and out of each other’s lives trying to get their lives and hearts in a synchronized position.
Like Forrest Gump, famous figures and famous events run through the background of the story. It is fun to see which names will make a cameo. It also paints a broad picture of the world between the 40’s and the 60’s.
There is infrequent use of swearing, and the sex mentioned earlier is not graphic in its details. Though pretty much each girl who is described in the book eventually ends up in bed with Henry. But any descriptions of those activities wouldn’t garner more than a PG-13 rating.
On the whole, the story was entertaining and enjoyable, especially the first half which takes place in the practice house. Though I wouldn’t call it irresistible, I give it a confident recommendation.