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It is the middle of the twentieth century, and in a home economics program at a prominent university, real babies are being used to teach mothering skills to young women. For a young man raised in these unlikely circumstances, finding real love and learning to trust will prove to be the work of a lifetime. In this captivating novel, bestselling author Lisa Grunwald gives us the sweeping tale of an irresistible hero and the many women who love him.
From his earliest days as a "practice baby" through his adult adventures in 1960s New York City, Disney's Burbank studios, and the delirious world of the Beatles' London, Henry remains handsome, charming, universally adored-and never entirely accessible to the many women he conquers but can never entirely trust.
Filled with unforgettable characters, settings, and action, The Irresistible Henry House portrays the cultural tumult of the mid-twentieth century even as it explores the inner tumult of a young man trying to transcend a damaged childhood. For it is not until Henry House comes face-to-face with the real truths of his past that he finds a chance for real love.
Lisa Grunwald is the author of the novels Whatever Makes You Happy , New Year's Eve , The Theory of Everything , and Summer . Along with her husband, BusinessWeek editor in chief Stephen J. Adler, she edited the bestselling anthologies Women's Letters and Letters of the Century . Grunwald is a former contributing editor to Life and a former features editor of Esquire.
In 1946 Martha Gaines ran the practice house a home-economics program for teaching young women how to be mothers at Wilton College. Many babies passed through the house, but only Henry captured Martha's heart, and she decided to keep Henry to raise as her own. At the tender age of 10, Henry finds out who his real mother is, and his life takes a turn from which he can't recover. Hating Martha for lying to him, Henry begins planning his escape from the practice house and ultimately from Martha. What follows is a fascinating chronicle of his wandering life from a boarding school for troubled teens to a cramped apartment with his birth mother in New York, the artists' bull pen at Disney studios, the streets of London, and finally back home to Wilton College, where he can make peace with what Martha did to him so many years ago. Grunwald has created a wonderfully well-written story about a charming, lovable man who must learn to trust and love the women in his life.--Kubisz, Carolyn Copyright 2010 Booklist
Publisher's Weekly Review
Like T.S. Garp, Forrest Gump or Benjamin Button, Henry House, the hero of Grunwald's imaginative take on a little known aspect of American academic life, has an unusual upbringing. In 1946, orphaned baby Henry is brought to all-girl's Wilton College as part of its home economics program to give young women hands-on instruction in child-rearing (such programs really existed). Henry ends up staying on at the practice house and growing up under the care of its outwardly stern but inwardly loving program director, Martha Gaines. As a protest against his unusual situation, Henry refuses to speak and is packed off to a special school in Connecticut, where his talents as an artist and future lover of women bloom. After he drops out of school, Henry finds work as an animator, working on Mary Poppins, then on the Beatles¿ Yellow Submarine. With cameos by Dr. Benjamin Spock, Walt Disney and John Lennon, and locations ranging from a peaceful college campus to swinging 1960s London, Grunwald nails the era just as she ingeniously uses Henry and the women in his life to illuminate the heady rush of sexual freedom (and confusion) that signified mid-century life. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Library Journal Review
For several decades beginning in the 1920s, some college home economic departments had practice houses, complete with practice babies for students to learn scientific principles of child and home care. The babies were orphans who spent a year tended by students before being adopted. Grunwald explores what life might have been like for one such baby. Henry House, the tenth Wilton College practice baby, earns his title of irresistible by learning early how to please eight different mothers. He's a master at keeping women engaged while never showing a preference. He learns how to imitate but not to create, a skill that helps him become a competent cartoon illustrator but not a true cartoonist. Not until he comes close to losing the one friend who knows him best does he begin to break the patterns learned as a baby. Verdict This welcome variation of coming-of-age tales shares with Grunwald's previous novels (Whatever Makes You Happy; Summer) a compelling web of characters and emotions that will please will please the author's fans and readers interested in novels with emotional depth. [Library marketing; ebook available 3/10: ISBN 978-1-58836-988-8.]-Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Chapter One Welcome Home, Henry By the time Henry House was four months old, a copy of his picture was being carried in the pocketbooks of seven different women, each of whom called him her son. The photograph showed Henry on the day he arrived at Wilton College in 1946. He was lying naked in his crib, his backside bare and sassy, his hair already shiny and dark, and his grin already firmly in place as he pulled up on his chubby hands and turned back toward the sound of his name. Henry House was a practice baby, an orphan supplied by the local home for the purpose of teaching college women how to be proper mothers. For more than two decades, since the early 1920s, colleges across the country had offered home economics programs featuring practice kitchens, practice houses, and, sometimes, practice babies. Henry was the tenth such baby to come to the Wilton practice house. Like the other so-called House babies before him, he was expected to stay for two years and be tended to in week-long shifts by a half dozen practice mothers. In earnest, attentive rotations, they would live and sleep beside him as they learned the science of child rearing--feeding and diapering, soothing and playing--until it was time to pass him on to the next devoted trainee. Raised, as a consequence, not with a pack of orphans by a single matron but as a single orphan by a pack of mothers, Henry House started life in a fragrant, dust-free, fractured world, where love and disappointment were both excessive and intertwined. in 1946, the campus of wilton college sat like a misplaced postage stamp in the upper-left-hand corner of the mostly flat, still mostly rural Pennsylvania rectangle. Established in 1880, the college was one of the oldest in the country created solely for the education of women, and it drew, in nearly equal numbers, girls from the nearby farms and girls from the distant towns and girls from the glittering, ambitious East. If some arrived with the thought that home economics would offer an easy path, they had only to enter the practice house to be disabused of this notion. Martha Gaines ran the program with an iron fist and a hidden heart, living full-time in the practice house while the undergraduates came and went. Martha considered the building hers, the students hers, the program hers. In 1926, she had been reassigned from her original post as a textiles instructor to design and run the practice baby program, and she had been in charge since the arrival of the very first House infant. Martha had overseen all the House babies since then, the single exception being during the previous year, when she had been urged (the gossip, she knew, said forced) to take a leave of absence. On this sharp, brisk autumn morning, with a new school year, a new group of mothers, and a new baby before her, Martha had never felt a deeper need to be in command. Henry was in her arms. He was wearing bright red cotton pajamas and was wrapped, budlike, in a pale green cotton blanket. The date of his birth--June 12, 1946--had been written on a piece of orphanage stationery and fixed to his blanket with a large diaper pin. The orphans always arrived with numbers and, thanks to Martha's one streak of whimsy, stayed on with cutely alliterative names: Helen House, then Harold House, then Hannah, Hope, Heloise, Harvey, Holly, Hugh, and Harriet. Only when they were adopted--which they invariably were, quite eagerly, as the prized products of modern child-rearing techniques--would they finally be given real names. At the door of the practice house, Martha now exhaled a homecoming sigh, then expertly shifted the baby onto her left arm to open the door with her right. "Welcome home, Henry," she whispered, stepping into the entranceway and turning on the light. Then she kissed one of the baby's tiny, still-clenched hands--not his Excerpted from The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.