Cover image for The house of gentle men
Title:
The house of gentle men
Author:
Hepinstall, Kathy.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bard, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
341 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"An Avon book."
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780380978090
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

A virgin child dreamed a woman's dreams in the lush, somnolent backwoods of Louisianna. In a year of war, sixteen-year-old Charlotte embarked on a mission of love, only to be set upon by three sodiers in training in a lonely, isolated section of the forest. And thus was a young life destroyed and remade, leaving Charlotte silent and alone, save for something that now grew inside of her. And nine months later when a babe was born--a demon in her eyes--Charlotte abandoned it to the elements, knowing she could never bear to look upon it.

Most wars eventually end. But some continue to rage internally.

Years later, in a world at peace, a friend's gift of pity brings Charlotte to a very special place in the woods. Every night, sad, damaged, overworked and unappreciated women make their way to the House of Gentle Men. Here they find the solace and chaste kindness they so desperately crave, administered by haunted men wishing to atone for the crimes in their pasts.

But Charlotte's past is alive within these welcoming walls. And her own sins and secrets impel her to consort with one--and only one--penitent soul whose accusing conscience has brought him here: a damaged man, no longer a solier, who once joined two comrades to defile a teenage girl in the Louisiana wood.

A virgin child dreamed a woman's dreams in the lush, somnolent backwoods of Louisiana. In a year of war, sixteen-year-old Charlotte embarked on a mission of love, only to be set upon by three soldiers in training in a lonely, isolated section of the forest. And thus was a young life destroyed and remade, leaving Charlotte silent and alone, save for something that now grew inside of her. And nine months later when a babe was born--a demon in her eyes--Charlotte abandoned it to the elements, knowing she could never bear to look upon it.

Most wars eventually end. But some continue to rage internally.

Years later, in a world at peace, a friend's gift of pity brings Charlotte to a very special place in the woods. Every night, sad, damaged, overworked and unappreciated women make their way to The House of Gentle Men. Here they find the solace and chaste kindness they so desperately crave, administered by haunted men wishing to atone for the crimes in their pasts.

But Charlotte's past is alive within these welcoming walls. And her own sins and secrets impel her to consort with one--and only one--penitent soul whose accusing conscience has brought him here: a damaged man, no longer a soldier, who once joined two comrades to defile a teenage girl in the Louisiana woods.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This intriguing story revolves around the rape of a young woman by three soldiers stationed in rural Louisiana for pre^-World War II training. When she later gives birth to a son, she believes he must be evil and abandons him in the woods. Years later she finds the opportunity for redemption and forgiveness when she visits the House of Gentle Men, a secret place where men seeking redemption for past misdeeds anonymously provide tenderness and understanding to hurt women. There she unknowingly falls in love with one of the men who raped her. The story is told more as allegory than as believable fiction, allowing the focus to remain completely on the complex nature of sexual relationships between men and women, especially the sexualization of violence. Although parts of the story are obviously contrived, overall it is saved by Hepinstall's lyrical and uniquely descriptive writing. Some readers may balk at the premise that hurt women need men to heal them, but this unusual first novel is definitely thought-provoking. --Grace Fill


Publisher's Weekly Review

Set in rural Louisiana during and after WWII, this odd but appealing first novel is a disconcerting yet harmonious mix of realistic characters and place, with a fable-like premise that is initially hard to accept but acquires resonance as the book draws to a redemptive close. The title is literal, referring to a retreat where men who have sinned can stay and do penance by befriending damaged women who come to visit. Dancing, talking, cuddling, every intimate interchange short of intercourse is permitted. The men live in the house; the women arrive in the evening and often spend the night. With this quixotic project, grieving Leon Olen hopes to win back the wife who abandoned him and their two children eight years before. Nearby lives mute-by-choice Charlotte Gravin, a young woman who eight years earlier was raped by three soldiers from a nearby army camp; only two weeks before the rape, her mother died in a fire. Eventually, Charlotte is drawn to the house, as is Justin, who alone of the rapists feels remorse. Charlotte wrestles with guilt, too. Impregnated by one of the rapists, Charlotte carried the baby to term; convinced the infant was a demon, she left him in the woods. The question she faces is whether she can forgive Justin and by so doing forgive herself. Multiple subthemes and motifs-including many references to fire as purifier and destroyer-supplement the central question of the nature of aggression and the possibilities of redemption. Charlotte's brother, Milo, is an arsonist; Louise, Leon's 17-year-old daughter, who cleans compulsively to "sterilize" her environment, has internalized her rage about her family's dynamics. Her brother, Benjamin, in rebellion against his father, tries to seduce the comforted women as they leave the house. Although the coincidences are Dickensian and the notion of a sexual halfway house remains problematic, Hepinstall is deft at developing believable personalities and structuring a moral landscape in which they can find insight to reconnect with their better selves. Agent, Henry Dunow. Author tour. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Physically damaged, emotionally abused, and love-starved women of all ages come to the House of Gentle Men for tenderness, waltzes, and chaste kisses. The men employed there believe, or choose to believe, that in this way they can redeem their violent pasts. Just after World War II, ex-soldier Justin comes to the house seeking to atone for his part in the gang rape of one of the town's young women in 1941. When Charlotte the Mute (she has not spoken since the day she was attacked) first meets Justin, she is unaware of his role in that crime, which led to a pregnancy and a baby abandoned after birth. As the relationship between Charlotte and Justin slowly develops, he realizes that he must find the courage to tell her who he really is. In an assured first novel that demonstrates promising literary talent, Hepinstall gracefully explores issues of guilt, forgiveness, grace, and redemption. A good choice for all public libraries.--Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.