lip lit: peggy frew, house of sticks
As a single girl in my mid-twenties, one of my worst nightmares isn’t that I’ll die alone while my thirty-six cats eat my remains, but that I’ll find myself in a life I resent. I’m terrified of being one of those women who get married and have a couple children, and all of a sudden lose themselves, becoming a bitter shell, and antagonising all those around them. In House of Sticks, Bonnie – a wife and mother – finds herself on the precipice of becoming this woman.
Written by musician Peggy Frew, House of Sticks is set in the inner-suburbs of Melbourne, and follows the life of aforementioned Bonnie, a young wife who has given up her job (and love) as a bassist to stay-at-home with her three young children. She clearly loves her children, but also feels trapped by them, and perhaps a little resentful. Her life has changed drastically, and while she doesn’t regret her decision to get married and have children, she’s not at peace with it.
Bonnie’s already fragile equilibrium is shaken by the constant presence of Doug, a friend of her husband Pete. Pete, who makes furniture in a backyard workshop, has hired Doug, even though he can barely afford to do so. Doug is now a constant presence in Bonnie’s life, making her feel uneasy in her own home.
Frew does a brilliant job at creating tension. In an everyday common world, she creates an atmosphere that is stifling and tense with an air of uncertainty. The novel’s title is pitch-perfect, and is clearly from the old children’s story, The Three Little Pigs. Bonnie’s house is more stable than straw, but its foundations aren’t as strong as brick. Her life and family aren’t indestructible, they can be blown down.
But who is the big bad wolf threatening to huff and puff Bonnie’s house down? Is it Doug, or is it Bonnie herself?
House of Sticks is a brilliant debut novel. Frew creates characters who are real, raw and completely developed. She has a talent for making small moments – such as Bonnie buying new clothes she’ll never wear instead of groceries – pertinent and somewhat heartbreaking. Importantly, House of Sticks has a lot of hope. It let me know – and hopefully other young women feel the same – that while readjusting your life might not be easy, there can be joy in the experience. And besides, I’m allergic to cats, so a house, even made of sticks, might not be so bad.