When misfits come together
Peter Bognanni would probably not appreciate the word "sweet" being used to describe his punk-rock-fueled debut novel, The House of Tomorrow, but parts of the story are decidedly so. This memorable tale tells the story of 16-year-old Sebastian Prendergrast, who lives in a geodesic dome outside North Branch, Iowa, with his Nana, who has homeschooled him in the gospel according to Buckminster Fuller since he was orphaned at the age of 5.
When Nana (real name Josephine) has a stroke while the Whitcomb family is visiting the dome, Sebastian is thrust into the wider world for the first time. Sixteen-year-old Jared Whitcomb, who is recovering from a heart transplant, decides he and Sebastian should start a punk band to ensure he's earned the heart he only received because another teenager died. His older sister, the beguiling Meredith, is a constant distraction to Sebastian and an irritation to Jared. Their mother, Janice, a church youth group leader, struggles to hold the family together since her husband left after Jared's transplant.
Bognanni deftly describes the angst and loneliness of these two teen boys, which they seek to scream out with their band, "The Rash," while making their debut at the church talent show. They talk of "wanting something real to happen"—wanting to be outside the clutches of their guardians, yet still longing for their love and protection.
A poignant passage makes a parallel between Nana's enthusiasm for the teachings of futurist architect and philosopher Fuller (and the man himself) and Sebastian's burgeoning obsession with punk—a musical style he didn't know existed until he met the Whitcombs: "Both had distrust for big corporations, big religions, and the government," Bognanni writes. "Both had a do-it-yourself motto. If something wasn't out there in the world that needed to be, whether it was a new sound or a new form of housing, you were supposed to do it yourself. It is only those who dared to do something different who made real contributions to life and art."
The House of Tomorrow is a hard-edged but heartrending story of growing up strange in a small Midwestern town. Anyone who’s been there is sure to relate to Sebastian and Jared—and to hope that The Rash lives on beyond its monumental and unforgettable debut.
Sarah E. White, who was born in Iowa, writes from Arkansas.