A chilling, literary novel about a nomadic young woman who becomes tangled in the stories of her past and the search for a wild boy. Teenage runaway Jamie Hall — entrapped by circumstance and poverty — seems incapable of escaping the mountain-and-valley watershed that was the birthplace of her maternal grandparents. Working as a housekeeper for Margaret, a retired photographer who leaves behind a pictorial chronicle of the valley’s history, Jamie finds herself trapped in a town — and amongst a group of locals — unable to shake the relentless grip of the past. There’s an ancient postmaster who lives through his memories of Jamie’s grandmother, the woman he loved but who was never his. There’s Galen, an ex-con who falls in love with Jamie, and who finds himself threatened by Harlan, a childhood friend who has become a murderous poacher. And then there’s the wild boy tied to a tree. When Jamie sets him free, she unintentionally involves both Galen and Harlan in a fatal chase and unleashes a force of evil that will haunt her for the rest of her life. With an unforgettable cast of characters and gorgeous, piercing prose, 'The Housekeeper' is at once a poetic meditation on landscape and a page-turning thriller.
In Wallace's second beautifully written novel (after Blue Horse Dreaming), the titular character is Jamie, a 17-year-old on the lam from being placed in a foster home after her mother's cancer death. She works for Margaret, an elderly photographer, in the small mill town Dyers Corner, where most residents are caught in a cycle of poverty and violence. Jamie arrives in the town, her grandparents' former home and her mother's birthplace, in search of her roots, but she becomes embroiled in a nasty debacle after she frees a disturbed young boy who was lashed to a tree. Wallace's prose is lush and spare ("unrepentant after his absences, unrepentant in drink, bridging with his body the chasms that lay between one unkindness and the next"), and she handles both the grotesque and the gorgeous with equal skill. A tender, tragic love story between Jamie and Galen, a trapper twice her age, together with a suspenseful pursuit story, brings the novel to a dramatic close. In the hands of a lesser writer, the novel would devolve into melodrama, but Wallace never lets its chilly, destitute atmosphere lapse.