House, Tom 1962-
HOUSE, Tom 1962-
The Beginning of Calamities: A Novel, Bridge Works (Bridgehampton, NY), 2003.
Contributor to anthologies, including Best American Gay Fiction, Little, Brown, 1997, 1998; and Men on Men, Plume, 2000. Contributor to Christopher Street, Harper's, Puerto del Sol, Western Humanities Review, New England Review, Chicago Review, Antioch Review, Other Voices, and other periodicals.
Tom House was raised in East Islip, Long Island where he attended Catholic school as a child, and he uses this familiar setting as the backdrop for in his well-received debut novel, The Beginning of Calamities. The novel takes place in the 1970s, as fifth-grader Danny Burke completes his Easter play titled The Passion and Resurrection of Christ. When Danny's young teacher, Liz Kaigh learns about the accomplishment, she is quick to scoop it up as an opportunity for her class to perform. However, the more popular students in Danny's class reject the idea of performing the play, leaving Danny and a leftover collection of oddballs to compose the cast. While their teacher refers to herself as "Queen of the Lepers", comical problems soon begin to arise. The chosen narrator has a terrible lisp, and the young girl playing Mary Magdalene is cut from the play at the last minute due to her mother's mortification that her daughter will be playing a prostitute. Meanwhile Danny has increasingly begun to identify with the lead character of Christ through his vilification and nudity, and he discovers a newfound freedom in the possibility in he himself might be gay. In an effort to obtain the lead role for himself, Danny concocts a plan to sabotage the other Jesus candidates, however he must first overcome his incredible shyness and tendency to stutter before he can take the stage. In addition to his own personal differences, Danny must deal with the negative effects of his Valium addicted mother Carol, whose vocal lack of faith in her son leads her to push him to take a minor role in the play.
While acknowledging the limitations of House's first novel, several critics were enthusiastic about his sensitive coming-of-age story. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted of The Beginning of Calamities that while "House writes with a sure hand about Danny's loneliness and longing, he never quite gets the novel's comic pacing right." Other critics found more to like in the novel, a contributor to Kirkus Reviews stated that the author's penchant for "underlying sarcasm leaves an aftertaste of wistful cynicism." Maureen Neville, writing in Library Journal, also complimented House's fiction debut and praised him as an "accomplished" author of short fiction. "Mixing pathos, irreverence, and a sense of befuddled impending doom," Neville maintained, The Beginning of Calamities acts as an "emotional roller coaster ride—one that makes the curious reader hold on until the final pages." While noting that the "unexplained, unrealistic absence of Danny's father from all semblance of family life" is problematic, C. Kevin Smith nonetheless praised House's debut as "enjoyable, well-written, and original," adding in his Lambda Book Report review that the play's the thing: "in the laborious, often hilarious, process of the play's advance from conception to performance" House creates "a metaphor for the continuous drama of childhood." In The Beginning of Calamities, the critic concluded, the reader discovers "true passion in the imagination of childhood—the inseparable rapture of faith and desire."
Discussing the craft of fiction writing in an interview with Jeffery Obser for the East Hampton Star, House commented: "Usually I write about embarrassment. Whenever someone feels humiliated, it indicates strong things are going on that make good fiction."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 1987.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of The Beginning of Calamities, p. 559.
Lambda Book Report, December, 2003, C. Kevin Smith, "Passion Play," p. 18.
Library Journal, April 15, 2003, Maureen Neville, review of The Beginning of Calamities, p. 122.
Publishers Weekly, April 28, 2003, review of The Beginning of Calamities, p. 46.
Tom House Web site,http://www.HouseStories.net (April 5, 2004).*