Available now from Unsolicited Press.
Letting the House Go--a story of love, memory and acceptance--is an intense and relevant new work of literary fiction.
Richard Morris learns that his former wife, Irene, has entered a Long Island hospice and wishes to see him before she dies. Surprisingly, she has named him her executor. For two weeks he embraces his duties, visits Irene’s bedside, and seeks reconciliation with their angry son, Henry. As Irene’s death approaches, family and friends gather to support her. Richard feels drawn ever more deeply into their lives. Yet his place within their circle is uncertain until the final moments of his trip to the past—when he must confront a faulty memory, bitter grievances, and the stunning truth about his life.
A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist.
Katie King, literary translator of Someone Speaks Your Name and A Form of Resistance, by Luis García Montero
"If Philip Roth were a feminist, he might have penned this portrayal of a man who has hurt and betrayed those closest to him before finding redemption in returning to his home town to help the ex-wife who still loves him face death. Navigating the bitterness and disappointment of those he’s wronged, as well as his own crippling sense of guilt, Richard Morris begins to learn through trial and error what real love is. Letting the House Go will compel you to read it twice: The first time to discover where and how Richard’s journey will end, the second to savor more slowly the lyrical descriptions of Long Island and to absorb Robert Crooke’s profound and moving insights into the human heart. His prose is masterful, literary, erudite and richly rendered. He guides the reader through a storm of memory and sins not easily forgiven toward faith in changing who we are and what we can become."
Anne Leigh Parrish, author of An Open Door
"Robert Crooke’s haunting, elegant new novel is a meditation of regret, a contemplation of past sins -- real and imagined – that asks whether cruel and selfish mistakes can be forgiven. Richly detailed descriptions of Long Island and its complex social history make Letting the House Go a first-rate read that affirms our faith in love’s ability to endure."
Eileen Charbonneau, author of Mercies of the Fallen
"Letting the House Go is a compelling voyage of discovery. To follow the wishes of a dying ex-wife, a man returns to a home and family held at a distance for years. While solving the fraught, historical mysteries surrounding a painting by famed genre artist William Sidney Mount, he also encounters revelations about his past that profoundly affect his present and future. Landscape, weather and essential dialogue enhance the story. Secondary characters crackle with wit and verve. As generations battle and bond over tricks of memory and family tragedies, uncovered truths of American history remind us that the past is always with us. Letting the House Go has all the elements readers of Robert Crooke’s luminous novels have come to expect: telling detail, poetic phrasing and cadence, intersections of class, race and gender, and explorations into the deep recesses of the human heart."
Barbara Goldowsky, author of Immigrant Dreams
Secrets Beneath A Lyrical Landscape
"Novelist Robert Crooke’s latest title, Letting the House Go may evoke a feeling of melancholy at first. One thinks of a family home being sold, beloved possessions passing into an uncertain future, a well-tended garden abandoned to weeds. All of these elements are explored in this novel set on the North Shore of Long Island, a still rural landscape where wine grapes are cultivated and poets and painters praise the sea-drenched light. In Letting the House Go, the reader follows the story of Richard Morris, a successful writer, and Irene, the wife he divorced many years ago, their son Henry and his family, and a painting by William Sidney Mount owned by Irene. Henry, angry about the divorce that happened in his childhood, has been estranged from his father for years. Like Richard himself, he is now puzzled by Irene’s decision to make Richard her executor. Why not the family lawyer? There are suspicions, it seems. It is not a comfortable group that gathers in Irene’s hospice room. And it is not only their complex personal relationships the family must confront. It is also the high monetary value of the Mount painting and what may lie below the idyllic landscape it depicts. Using flashbacks, and parts of a new novel Richard is readying for publication, Mr. Crooke gives the reader insights into the family’s past – the many kinds of love that bind a family together and the betrayals that tear it apart. Conflicting memories reveal old wounds and question whether broken promises can ever be repaired. Examining past actions leads to surprising discoveries in the present. Though physically weak, Irene, the dying woman, is not passive. Her strong spirit urges the family to seek self-knowledge and hints at bridges between past and future – redemption rather than melancholy. The author portrays each character’s strengths and vulnerabilities in clear eyed prose that captures the reader’s attention and keeps it engaged. Mr. Crooke’s narrative skill in building this multi-layered, suspenseful story, his objective yet heart-rending descriptions of terminal illness, his knowledge of Long Island’s history, and his poetic appreciation of its natural beauty make this novel a sensory as well as an intellectual pleasure to read."
A family novel focuses on rehabilitating ruptured ties and weaving new ones.
When the world looks at Richard Morris, it sees a successful novelist. But he is also a father and an ex-husband who has only glimpsed his son “a handful of times” in 20 years. When an attorney calls Richard and tells him that his ex-wife, Irene, is dying of cancer and would like him to be the executor of her estate, he is puzzled, but he hopes for a chance to rebuild his relationship with his son. Richard visits Irene in a hospice and learns that she has built an art collection worth more than $2 million. The focal point of the collection is a mysterious William Sidney Mount painting that had disappeared from public view until Irene’s attorney—once a suitor, now a friend—bought it at a Bridgehampton barn sale on Long Island and gave it to her without knowing its worth. As Richard learns more about the painting, he is glad that Irene has given him one “last, brief chance to be her husband.” But he also has to finish revising his new manuscript, which just happens to be “thinly veiled fiction about a youthful love affair and a ten-year marriage that end in bitter sadness.” He is pleased to find that his daughter-in-law and grandchildren welcome his appearance, but there is a mysterious tension surrounding his son, Henry. As Richard connects with meaningful people and places from his past, his life and the management of Irene’s estate become exponentially more complex. And that’s before the painting vanishes. Crooke’s restrained, subtle prose allows the plot to move swiftly, and Richard is a well-drawn protagonist. The supporting characters might be more believable with less dialogue and more characterization, and for a story set on Long Island’s East End, there are relatively few glimpses of the landscape and the white sails that “speckle the blue Long Island Sound.” But the solemn novel’s marriage of Long Island lore, art history, and family drama is ultimately a moving one.
Looking back is the only way to move forward in this poignant meditation on loss.
Joan Baum, "Baum on Books," NPR/WSHU-FM
Former journalist and media executive Robert Crooke creates such realistic characters and locales in his new novel, Letting the House Go , that a reader is moved to find out if the places and people are real.
Some are. Set on the North Fork of Long Island in the present day, the narrative turns on the recent discovery of an invented canvas, “The Prospect”, by the real-life, North Fork-based artist William Sidney Mount. Mount’s dates are 1807-1868 and he was well known as a genre painter of the Stony Brook region. He also depicted antebellum freed slaves either in portraits or in scenes where they look on at white-only activities. Such compositions were unusual for the time.
It’s Crooke’s inclusion of this historical fact, in an intriguing domestic fiction about self-discovery, memory, regret and redemption that gives this — his 5th novel — memorable resonance. Not to mention the ear-perfect dialogue of his characters, including the back-and-forth sassing of young children and the wonderfully evocative descriptions of historical North Fork villages and beaches.
Though Mount shared the prominent racial attitude of the day, he was obviously sympathetic to the plight of Blacks and Crooke has Mount give those freed but separate and unequal human beings a presence that history might otherwise have ignored. This theme parallels protagonist Richard Morris’s growing awareness of a false or partial narrative of his own life. Including repressed truths about what went on in his old house.
What are the reasons for repression or ignoring recollections? What is the obligation of an artist or memoirist to correct the record? Familiar themes but surprisingly and movingly integrated in Letting the House Go.
Martin Langfield, author of The Secret Fire and The Malice Box
A Resonant Read About Loss, the Undying Past and Making Amends
"Letting the House Go is a resonant, luminous read about loss, the undying past and making amends. Robert Crooke's protagonist, Richard Morris, is a confident, worldly author who seems to have also been an emotional coward for much of his life. His self-absorption has caused casualties, and it takes the imminent death of his ex-wife Irene to bring him face-to-face with all he must do to live a kinder, more connected life in whatever years remain to him. Crooke's characters are for the most part sophisticated, successful Long Islanders, and his protagonist Morris has a patrician charm and savoir-faire about him. Yet emotional distance haunts him and his family to the extent that he can only broach certain events with his ex-wife at a remove, through fictional scenes he reads to her on her deathbed, and to which she responds as if they were about other people. Crooke's writing is perceptive and understated, especially on the subject of painting and the history and scenery of Long Island. He tells a story about difficult, partial redemption that resonates long after the last page has been turned."
"A richly detailed, poignantly observed story about truth, beauty and the limitations of love."
Eileen Charbonneau, author of Waltzing in Ragtime
"Robert Crooke has produced something astonishing--a literary page turner."
Vinton Rafe McCabe, author of Death in Venice, California
"An author of rare intelligence, a literary artist with a gift for elevating the details of ordinary life into art, and art into something both resonant and wonderfully entertaining."
*****Life, love and literature entwined
"Drawing on Dante and Henry James for inspiration, Crooke weaves a story about the profound ability of art to help us understand our own lives, and others'."
"Robert Crooke describes the places and faces of the Hudson Valley with ease and paints a well-rounded, sympathetic protagonist."
The Berkshire Eagle
"A gentle, reflective novel."
The Litchfield County Times
"A fable about the nature of human existence--tragedy, love and the passing of time--and the meaning of time's passing."
*****A poignant and satisfying read
"The past can sometimes own us, and Ted Devaney knows the sad truth of that statement. In Robert Crooke's The Earth and Its Sorrows, we join Ted on his journey to where the past meets the present. You feel yourself carried along with the character of Ted, and you care for him, and his search for a way to deal with the death of a child. The prose is written with the precise skill of a writer/surgeon. It brings you into the story with wonderful descriptions of this place in the Hudson Valley in New York. The people you meet there are real, and somehow, Robert Crooke has you rooting for them. He teaches you the lesson that we are all interconnected, whether we want to be or not."
*****A Book and Its Pleasures
"From the simplest of life's memories, to its most profound and heartrending moments, Crooke writes about them all with deft skill, masterfully detailed prose and, most important, Truth. The Earth and Its Sorrows is a novel to be savored--and not to be missed."
"Crooke offers a dark tale of one long-ago summer in Montauk, writing with potency and a natural sense of timing."
The Southampton Press
"A well-crafted and suspenseful journey into self-knowledge and sobriety told in a moving, never sentimental manner."
The Berkshire Eagle
"A slice of real life with fine dialogue, vivid characterizations, and situations that smack us with the back of a familiar hand. It is a compelling read."
The East Hampton Independent
"Crooke's setting is much further east than Gatsby's Gold Coast, and for this reason alone Sunrise, more timely than Gatsby, should enjoy a wide local readership. Crooke knows the Hamptons and Montauk, but he's also done his homework: for all the subliminal Fitzgerald influence, he has crafted his own compelling discovery story."
*****A rich, interesting story
"I tore through Sunrise in every spare moment. I found it enormously rich; indeed, I may go back and reread it because there is so much in it. Crooke has managed to pull off something I think is exceptionally difficult: A drunk, is not that interesting as a central character, but by letting us see a sober Steve recalling his earlier life makes him someone we--I at least--want to follow and care about. I also liked the cameos of famous people--Lee Krasner, The Rolling Stones, John Knowles, even James Jones. Since they would have been at the place the book is set at the time of the story, they did not seem dragged in for effect and, again, they add richness and depth to the story. Again, there is so much in the book to think about and enjoy, I am sure I've missed things--a reason to reread it."
*****Sunrise--a path to renewal
"I believe in the infinite capacity of the human spirit. That's why I loved this book. Robert Crooke’s narrator is a former athlete with a running injury, a stalled career and a battle with alcohol, who weaves a tale of love, loss, confusion, depression and desperation before he reveals the true cost of his choices. With crystal clear images of free-to-be-me sex and drugs in the beach towns of Long Island during the late sixties and seventies, Crooke doesn't sugar-coat the beat of the moment. He leads the reader through dark tales that connect life from the sixties through the new millennium, and sustains just the right glimmer of light on the path to renewal."
"Robert Crooke's story remains faithful to the complex and treacherous politics of the 1950s, and his characters' moral battles, as the mystery heats up. There's not an unlikeable or dull character among the lot--even Jackie Robinson and Paul Robeson make appearances."
The Berkshire Eagle
"The lead character becomes a man long before he finishes his boyhood. This loss of innocence is handled delicately and brilliantly through small conversions from what he witnesses and experiences."
"The Gannons, Robert Crooke's American Family, are a reflection of their time—the 1950's. The themes of political corruption, racial prejudice, blacklisting, and unfounded accusations come to life in the microcosm of the Gannon family. Tom Gannon who describes himself as the least worthy of the family, narrates the family history and presents vivid portraits of his mother, father, and siblings as they meet and face forces of evil personified by powerful politicians who manipulate real estate holdings for personal profit and by so doing limit those brave men like Joe Gannon who is appalled by the racial prejudice and seemingly limitless penchant for personal gain and power exhibited by some of the most powerful people in the Hudson Valley and NYC. The characters are multi-dimensional. Tom Gannon, the narrator is at once frightened and brave, filled with idealism and flawed by doubt, loving and selfish. He is, in other words, very human and we see him grow through this story and change. Perhaps, that is what Crooke intended to give us, a tale that includes the horror of evil that also contains a bright ray of hope. Some men will always try to take away our humanity and take all they can for themselves without concern for the consequences their actions have on others. Yet, there will always be those who are concerned for others, those who will think carefully before going to war, those who will see conflict as a last resort and those who will risk ruin in an attempt to make this a better world. Certainly, Crooke brings us a tale of the '50's with a clear parallel to the year 2005. The story of the Gannon family was a joy to read. It contained historical facts that added to the plot and moments of great passion as well as horrid tragedy. Once I began reading this book, I hated to put it down. And, when it was over, I sat for quite a while stunned and silent as the implications of American Family swept through my soul. A great read.."
*****A fabulous read
"I couldn't put the book down. It holds your interest from beginning to end. The story gives the reader insight into the politics and mind set of the fifties. Bottom line is if you like family drama, history, love stories and intrigue, you'll love this book."