Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels


What's on my kitchen counter?

Leslie Daniels is a great writer whose background as a literary agent serves her well in her craft.

Romance, baseball, a dog, small town upstate culture, crime, memoir/creative nonfiction, writing and authors and agents: women’s fiction has a fresh new voice.  Daniels mixes it all up so there’s something for everyone.  Plus humor, sardonic and ironic.

Walking away from a marriage because you don’t know the proper way to load a dishwasher, the story begins with the protagonist losing custody of her kids. The narrator of Cleaning Nabokov’s House (Touchstone/Simon &, Shuster, March 7, 2010) weaves a tale without pity and applies the book business lessons from Lolita which Nabokov wrote while living in the house in Ithaca NY where Leslie Daniels lives.

I have only one wish about this book. The fictional name of our community as Onkwedo stinks. This seems too opaque when I live here. Perhaps this is the urbane Leslie who feels at home in the rush of pedestrian street traffic. Everyone who knows Nabokov is hip to Ithaca. And Ithaca has its own character, somewhere between Buck County and Fargo. When a novel’s setting is in New York City, the author generally doesn’t fictionalize it as New Jerk. I say this only because I think she’s captured Ithaca’s spirit …light, dark, and shadows.  Red. Not yellow and green. This town bleeds Red and the undercurrents implicating Cornell, not Waindell University, in the plot are as literary and sophisticated in nuance as Nabokov’s Pnin, which my local reading group enjoyed reading a year ago. I just think Ithaca is such a book town that Ithaca could have worked more for her than against in the literary success of the book.

In an interview with Tish Pearlman on the radio program, Out of Bounds, WEOS-FM (March 3, 2011), Leslie Daniels talked about the importance of her writing group to building the book. Her colleagues fell in love with the character of Barb Barrett and Leslie wasn’t writing fast enough to satisfy their interest and enthusiasm. Writers need writer friends who push them forward.

Barbara Barrett is a character like Nancy Botwin (played by Mary Louise Parker) in the off-beat black comedy television series, Weeds.  Caught up in the maelstorm of becoming a single mother, both Nancy Botwin and Barbara Barrett take risks to become self-reliant and the leader of their family pack. The journey of Barbara Barrett is more compelling; Nancy Botwin just keeps making one bad decision after another. Barbara learns and grows and becomes your best friend by the end of this page-turner breakout novel.

Part Ann Tyler and part Alison Lurie; Weeds meets Cougar Town. The journey to live an authentic life is one gathered up from the scattered pieces of a shattered life. And you’re laughing with her as she cleans house.

Once I started this, I couldn’t do anything else. It was a one sitting read; about 8 hours of reading pleasure. Alison Lurie, Janet Fitch, and Dorothy Allison provide glowing blurbs; among other great endorsements from the literary world good writers inhabit. My true test of how good a book is by how dirty my house gets while I’m caught up in a good story. Let’s just say I hired someone to help with housework this week!

Leslie Daniels was an agent. This book is a result of her understanding of how book publishing works as a business, not just a passing fancy. She got herself an agent and good editors because she understood the value these professionals bring to a novel like hers. And you can’t, you just can’t be your own editor or agent. There is the rare exception to this, but Daniels offers writers a rule for publishing success. Think more like an agent and a reader who pick up the book . If it doesn’t grab you in the first line your chances begin to shrink exponentially that it will go any further than page one (unless you pay them to read).

Leslie’s opening  lines draw you in and won’t let you go.

“I knew I would stay in this town when I found the blue enamel pot floating in the lake. The pot led me to the house, the house led me to the book, the book to the lawyer, the lawyer to the whorehouse, the whorehouse to science, and from science I joined the world.”

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1 Comment

Filed under Good Fiction, Just one good reader, Resources for Writers

One response to “Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels

  1. Amelia Sauter

    Love the comparison of the main character to Nancy Botwin.

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