Who Occupies This House
Triquarterly, $26.95, 272 pp.
Kathleen Hill’s novel Who Occupies This House is an intergenerational saga that traces the material progress and emotional travails of an Irish-Catholic family from Famine Ireland to the present-day suburbs of New York City. Richly nuanced, eloquently insightful, and elegantly crafted, Who Occupies This House is rooted in the particularities of Irish immigration and assimilation. Yet, much like the long day’s journey laid out by Eugene O’Neill in his masterful play, Hill’s novel slips the entanglements of ethnic and familial specifics to take flight amid the continuities and disruptions common to the human predicament.
At the heart of Hill’s novel is this truth: Contra the 1937 Pulitzer Prize–winning play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, You Can’t Take It with You, we not only can take it with us, but we do, at least most of it. We leave behind ephemeral accumulations and corruptible, perishable trinkets—cash, clothes, homes, etc.—that survive for a generation or two (or three or four) before they’re sold, lost, trashed, or given away. We take with us what really matters: Our soul-defining loves, hopes, fears, expectations, memories, ecstasies, agonies; the dense and driven passion of individual experience that sets us apart, marks our singular passage from cradle to grave, and allows us each, no matter how lacking in celebrity or worldly significance, to re-make Whitman’s boast into our epitaph: I was large, I contained...