The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"House of the Future" by Richard Butner: An Appreciation by Michael Kelly

Richard Butner's "House of the Future" is a seemingly simple tale of young Eddie Herring and his fascination with a modern "wing-shaped" house perched near the end of his street. The house was built in 1959, more than 40 years before the story takes place, and was an architectural experiment. Most considered the house an eyesore, but Eddie sees beauty and potential in it. Eddie quietly rails against the uniform, cookie-cutter houses with their artificially green lawns that dot his street, his world. Butner, it seems, in his own quiet manner, is saying we should look at things with a fresh childlike innocence. We should try and see the beauty in everything. And, perhaps, we should experiment more, try to break the chain of uniformity. Eddie himself, when he begins to investigate the house, seems transfixed with the past. Everyone wore suits and ties and smiled all the time.

Young Eddie, much like the house, doesn't fit in. His father has left them, and Eddie only sees him on weekends. At school he chums around with the "horsey girls." While the other boys are playing football, Eddie is sketching horses.

The prose is smooth and elegant. The type of writing that you don't really notice until much later, perhaps months later, when you realize the tale is still haunting you. "House of the Future" is reminiscent of much of Charles Beaumont's work. To me, there is no higher compliment. Take this line, for example:

"Do you want to know what 1959 was like, Eddie Herring? It was all Barbie Dolls and pantyhose, that's what 1959 was like."


It is simple, effective, and memorable.

Many other themes run through the story. Eddie feels a sense of abandonment because his father has left them. One of the "horsey girls," Anne, becomes a close friend to Eddie, and we get a glimpse of Eddie's burgeoning teen sexuality. It is a nostalgic and melancholic meditation. And, as evidenced by this paragraph, there is a certain sad streak running through the tale:

Like the fantasy I shared with all my classmates, that we'd grow up to be rich or famous or both, all of us doctors and actors and Presidents of the United States. When, if you thought about it, we'd mostly just end up as plumbers and insurance salesmen and maybe if we were lucky we'd own an insect extermination business like the guy Mom dated. Those other fantasies would never happen, the same way that Mom and Dad would never get back together.


Yet the story never becomes cloyingly sentimental. Eddie Herring is a curious, complicated kid. His inquisitive nature imbues the tale with a sense of wonder. At the end, when Eddie confronts the past, we hope he'll make the right choice. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And we are free, like Eddie, to make up our own minds.

And this is a beautiful tale. It is everything a good story and good writing should be.

All Best Wishes
Michael Kelly
Fiction Editor, ChiZine
http://chizine.com/

Link to story.

4 Comments:

Blogger Richard said...

Michael,

Thanks.

--Richard Butner

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Michael Kelly said...

My pleasure, Richard. Thank YOU for such a great tale.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was one of my favorite stories to appear on SCIFICTION -- thanks for a great appreciation.

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Michael Kelly said...

Thanks, anon!

7:34 PM  

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