What an odd thing a family was,…The permutations, like the patterns of a chess game, seemed endless.
The Ziller family – Warren and Camille and their three children: Dustin, Delilah (“Lyle”), and Justin, and Mr. Leonard, an old and arthritic dog – left their hometown of Nashotah, Wisconsin in 1982 to move to a suburban development outside of Los Angeles, California. In pursuit of success and wealth, Warren Ziller invests everything in a real estate development – Auburn Fields – that ends up being adjacent to a dump. Three years later (1985) Warren has lost everything but is afraid to tell his family who all seem to be completely unaware of what is going on around them.
Model Home by Eric Puchner is the story of what happens to a completely dysfunctional family (is there any other kind?) when its members all seem to be outliers wrapped up in their own problems and issues:
45-year old Warren has sacrificed his family’s future and spends more time hiding the truth from his family than facing up to reality. Unable to connect decisions to outcomes, Warren wanders aimlessly through each day, unsure of what to do or how to make things right.
Camille, his blond, preppy, and naive wife, lives in a “psychotic brand of cheerfulness” but suspects her husband is having an affair.
17-year old Dustin can only think about surfing, playing his guitar with his band, and sex, while 16-year old Lyle spends her days pissed off at the world wondering why life isn’t as interesting as it is in books. Meanwhile 11-year old Justin lives in his own world of color coordinated clothes trying to garner attention from someone, anyone.
Tragedy strikes and the Ziller family is forced to make some major changes in their lives leading Warren, Camille, Dustin, Lyle, and Justin to confront who they are, what they believe, and how they will survive. The author explores tough topics including parental favoritism, adultery, alcohol and drug abuse, enabling, neglect, and narcissism all the while weaving love and familial devotion through the story.
Published in 2010, the 360-page, three-part book has 49 chapters, each told from the perspective of the various members of the Ziller family from the summer of 1985 to the winter of 1986, which provides the reader with a deep understanding of each character. At times exhausting and other times hilarious, Model Home is also the tragedy and triumph of an American family.
We’re still a family, even if we don’t act like it.