Reviewed by Vera Pereskokova (Luxury Reading)
The idea for The Irresistible Henry House came about by accident. Author Lisa Grunwald was searching the web when she stumbled across a photo of a baby boy – a “practice baby” from Cornell University’s long since abandoned home economics program. This single photograph led to more research and eventually to the marvel that is The Irresistible Henry House.
Henry was just one in the long line of “practice babies” in the 1940s, brought to the all-women’s Wilton College to be passed from one “practice mother” to another. The program director, Martha Gaines, was a model of austerity and discouraged any excessive signs of affection towards the babies in her charge. In her mind (and in the mind of many child-raising experts at the time), babies had to be trained to stay in schedule and holding the babies “too much” was about the worst thing one could do.
Despite herself, Martha grows attached to Henry and decides to raise him as her own. Skilled in tending to infants and toddlers, she knows surprisingly little of children older than two years of age. Because of her ineptitude and owing largely to his unusual upbringing, Henry grows up craving attention of everyone, never letting his loyalties or affections rest with just one person.
The Irresistible Henry House follows our character through his decision to stop speaking as a protest to Martha’s ever imposing presence, his stint in a school for kids with special needs in Connecticut, his blossoming art talent and his various gigs in animation with Disney, both in the US and the 1960’s London.
Henry is intensely charming and moves through women just as fast as he moves from place to place, from one feigned attachment to another. Henry enjoys conquering women, enjoys knowing that he can win them over if he chooses to do so. But, his actions are easy to tie back to the lack of a motherly bond in his childhood, easy to explain away as a result of his upbringing. And it is his apparent desire to truly love – and his inability to do so – that keeps the pages turning, and keeps the suspense and the hope for a happy ending alive for the reader.
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