Child's Play

A local novelist illustrates the world around a famous writer


A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass 
Published by Anchor Books, 368 pages, $17

Mort Lear, a fantastically successful but neurotic children’s book author and artist—somewhat resembling Maurice Sendak—is dead at the start of this sixth novel from Marblehead resident Julia Glass. So we only know the protagonist in A House Among the Trees retrospectively, through memories from the people in his life. That includes Tommy Daulair, a woman who was his steady assistant for 40 years. That friendship was balanced—or unbalanced—by Merry Galarza, a museum curator who fully expected Mort to leave his colossal archives to her Contemporary Book Museum.

The book recalls decades of Mort’s life in which his pen sparkled despite personal grief. He accepted awards, gave readings and remained prolifically productive, filling bookstore windows. The dazzling Oscar winner Nick Greene lands the role of Mort in a biopic, and the British actor plunges into the rather surreal quest of getting to know his now ghostly cinematic character. He finds some sad synchronicities in their two histories, exploring abuse Mort suffered before obtaining success.

Glass renders Nick’s English charm deliciously, describing the joys and horrors of celebrity and romance, while other colorful characters include the wild Deirdre, whose jazzy dialogue would play well on stage. Mort inspires many complex relationships, revelations and unexpected outcomes, but Glass also brings sophisticated liveliness to her characters, even as her deceased protagonist jiggles their lives.

From page 273: “She realizes she’s peering at him, as if he is not in focus.
‘Nicholas Greene,’ he says.
‘Oh … oh Christ—oh
sorry—I mean, of course you are. God, I’m an idiot.’ And then the picture does come into focus. ‘You’re playing Mort. In the movie. Oh my God.’
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘And you’re not … some skulduggerish gal reporter, chasing me into the woods, Diana the Media Huntress.’
‘No,’ says Merry. ‘I don’t think so, at least.’ ” 

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