Halfway House: A Novel

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9780871139344: Halfway House: A Novel

One day, Angie Voorster — diligent student, all-star swimmer, and Ivy League-bound high school senior — dives to the bottom of a pool and stays there. In that moment, everything the Voorster family believes they know about one another changes. Set in a small town in New Hampshire, Halfway House is the story of Angie's psychotic break and her family's subsequent turmoil. Each of her family members responds differently to the ongoing crisis: Her father Pieter, a professional cellist, retreats further into his music; her mother begins a destabilizing affair with a younger man; her younger brother, Luke, first pushes away from her then later drops out of college to be closer to her. Though the Voorsters manage for a time to maintain a semblance of the normalcy they had "before," it is not until Angie is finally able to fend for herself that the family is able to truly fall apart and then regather itself in a new, fundamentally changed way. With grace and precision rarely seen in a first novel, Noel guides readers through a world where love is imperfect, and where longing for an imagined ideal can both destroy one family's happiness and offer redemption.

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Review:

Halfway House, Katharine Noel's triumphant debut, does far more than expose the highs and lows of battling mental illness; rather, it leaves readers with a sense of longing that transcends the subject matter. Told from the perspective of five family members, Noel expertly captures each character's essence with unapologetic honesty, creating sympathies that would falter under a less gifted writer. The result is a profound look at how a crisis can both destroy and reinvent a seemingly typical family.

Set in rural New Hampshire, Halfway House tells the story of the Voorster family, whose lives are upended when 17-year-old Angie suffers a breakdown and is eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As Angie shuffles between hospitals, dorm rooms, halfway houses, and her childhood home, the side effects of her disease and treatment impact each member of her family. Her father Pieter, a Dutch-born cellist, retreats into himself, while her mother Jordana begins an affair. Angie's brother Luke finds comfort in his girlfriends, especially Wendy, whom he meets while at college in Wisconsin. Eventually, familial relationships must be broken in order to be reinvented. In the process, family dynamics must shift, and each character must confront their own demons in order to emerge on the other side.

From One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to Girl, Interrupted, the subject of mental illness is hardly uncharted in modern literature. What Noel does is go beyond the disease to explore the consequences of crisis, both punishing and redemptive, without compromise or excuses. That is what makes Halfway House a wonder, and a pleasure to behold. --Gisele Toueg

About the Author:

Katherine Noel is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University where she formerly held a Stegner Fellowship. Her writing has won grants from the Henfield-Transatlantic, Barbara Demming and Rone Jaffe Foundations, and was included in Best New American Voices 2003.

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