House Rules : A Must Read

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‘House Rules’ can be arguably called the most painful yet the most knowledgeable novel one could come across. Undoubtedly one of her best works till date, Jodi Picoult places us squarely in the life of a boy with an Asperger’s Syndrome. She allows us to get under the skin of the protagonist and feel the pain that his illness causes to not only himself but his family and friends alike. Asperger’s is a form of high functioning autism. One of every one hundred children is diagnosed on the autism continuum today.

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Jacob Hunt, the protagonist of ‘House Rules’, is affected by this condition. His world is literal with no nuances. He is incapable of expressing what he feels. People treat him as an alien to the human race because he knows only frankness, which eventually leaves him with a limited number of friends. He is incapable of telling a lie and has limited social skills, makes limited eye contact and he cannot bear to be touched. But he is exceptionally bright with a fixation on forensic science. He can analyze crime scenes as well as professional, and, most ominously, he can create fake crime scenes. He solves murder mysteries on televisions, keeping notes of the clues that led him to make the inference. He reads extensively on detective work and autopsy discoveries. Jacob also seems to have a flat affect. He is repulsed by the color orange. Life is a series of routines to the extent that each day is devoted to a particular color of food.

Emma is the mother of two, Jacob himself and Theo. Their father abandoned the family because he was unwilling to share the burden of having to take care of an autistic son. Alone Emma faces the oddities of bringing up their brilliantly autistic child, in this world full of chaos and mayhem, trying her best to make him seem as normal as possible. Her life turns into an eternal struggle to deal with the atrocities hurled at her by Jacob, mostly unintentionally.

Emma’s younger son Theo grows up in an atmosphere in this home dominated by constant care for Jacob. He feels neglected and chooses the wrong path in life. Theo becomes a bandit. After school, he often tracks down houses. Then when the owners are away, he sneaks inside and steals the items he loves: MP3 Players, video games, iPod and CD’s.

The story unfolds gradually. Each chapter being told from a different person’s perspective. The narrative is similar to that of ‘My Sisters Keeper’. Jacob’s mother hires young Jess, to befriend him and make him more socially acceptable. She does her very best but that doesn’t seem to be enough for Jacobs Asperger’s to constantly need her attention. Her boyfriend ends their relationship because he feels she dotes on Jacob. Their lives seem to be going smoothly until one day when the police find Jess dead not far from her apartment. Her body lied in a wooden area with Jacobs favorite blanket wrapped around her. He is charged of murder and taken in for trial. When questioned, his Asperger’s forces him to answer every question truthfully. He admits to being in Jess’ home, repulsed by the stream of blood overflowing her bathroom. He also admits to carrying Jess’ corpse to the culvert, where her dead body was found and wrapping it with the blanket. Shattered by the prospect of Jacob surviving in prison, her mother breaks down. Although she admits her son did have bouts of violence, she was convinced it could never lead to anyone’s murder. But Jacobs own fateful testimony accompanied with the convincing forensic evidence seems to shake the foundation of hers and Theo’s belief in Jacob’s innocence. Jacob’s lawyer attempts to enter an insanity plea. But the tests prove that he was absolutely in his senses while committing the crime. He seemed to have an underlying motive. He did not like the attention Jess gave her boyfriend since he considered himself to be superior to him.

The brilliant story line with its artful narration will have you racing to the end to find out what happens to this young man. Did he actually murder Jess in all his senses? Or is there a twist in the tale? “House Rules” will not disappoint. The rule refer to a particular order of things by which their house if governed. Everything seems to revolve around Jacob. Both his mother and his brother seem to get frustrated, at one point of time, by the fact that they seem to have no life of their own anymore. The intricate realities of having a handicapped son or brother is captured beautifully by Picoult. The simple series of events is easy to follow and well thought out. It is written in a quick pace. The Washington Post wrote about House Rules stating, “Picoult’s superb novel makes us inhabit Jacobs’s solitude and abide his yearning.” I couldn’t agree more.

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