Book Review: "Set This House In Order: A Romance of the Souls" by Matt Ruff

I'm lacking in the movie reviews right now, so I'll hook y'all up with another book review.


This book is complicated. Very complicated. Andy Gage has Multiple Personality Disorder and has had such since ‘the body’ was repeatedly abused by ‘the stepfather’ through the years. With every traumatic event, Andy’s personality, or soul, split and split further until there were hundreds of souls living within the body. Aaron, the father, was put in charge of building a house in Andy Gage’s head, a house that would hold all of the souls (except one, who lives on an island in the middle of the lake) to keep them in order. Some of these souls include Jake, a young boy; Adam, a perverted teenager; Aunt Sam, a kind artist; and Sefaris, a giant protector. But Aaron created one in particular, Andrew, that would take control over Andy Gage’s body and run it, giving the other souls their own limited time every now and then.

Andrew works at The Reality Factory with Julie, an ambitious young woman that Andrew is in love with, though she doesn’t exactly return the sentiment. This becomes even truer when Julie hires Mouse, or Penny, as she would prefer (though is too scared to correct), another young woman that Julie seems intent on hooking up with Andrew. But the thing about Penny is that she, too, has MPD, and Julie (knowing Andrew has it, as well) hopes that he can fix her the same way he was fixed, so to speak. Because Penny doesn’t know she has MPD, her mind and her souls are in chaos, and she often has blackouts with other souls taking over. Some of these other souls include the incredible foul-mouthed and overly angry Maledicta and her twin sister Malefica, the shy yet protective Thread, and the highly promiscuous Loins.

Andrew denies at first, angry. It is a long and troubling process that should only be handled by a professional, but when Penny’s souls demand his help, he’s all but forced to oblige. Unfortunately, everything begins to snowball until the house in Andy Gage’s head is sent into chaos, and Andrew and Penny are forced into a cross-country journey of self-discovery.

And not to mention that the book flips back and forth between the first-person narrative of Andrew and the third person/present tense narrative of Mouse. As I said, it’s rather complicated. It actually reminds me a lot of the movie Adaptation with Nicolas Cage. It’s a real mind-freak, and the last 1/3 of the book is not where the rest of the story was leading you to begin with. And this is probably the biggest downfall of the book. The first 2/3s of the book or so is a mix of really funny humor and really disturbing descriptions of parental abuse, whether physical, mental, or sexual. Where the book is funny, it’s pretty funny. Where it delves into the abuse, it gets really disturbing and/or uncomfortable. But it’s all still working very well into a really great, original, and imaginative book.

Then comes the last part of the book. It starts going a bit downhill when the cross-country trip begins. The first half of the book was more like, as the subtitle alludes, a romance or drama. But, similar to Adaptation, it turns into a random murder mystery that just doesn’t seem to work with the majority of the rest of the book (though it really does work for Adaptation, because that was the entire point... but you get my drift). Though it’s not awful by any means. It’s still a good book for what it does. It just had potential to be great and falls just short of it, I think. The end just become too mainstream or blockbuster, which clashed with everything else (just like the movie Adaptation points out). I think what I was most upset by was the character of Adam, though. For the full first half of the book, Adam was always right next to Andrew, commenting or warning in the background as he stared out through Andy Gage’s eyes along with Andrew. You get really used to him, like he’s one of the main characters (such as Julie). But then once the chaos begins, with the exception of a couple scenes here or there, he all but disappears. And then Aunt Sam, who had barely been shown through the first half, becomes more important toward the end.

And the (incredibly lengthy) epilogue seems to be both good and bad. It proves that almost nothing in the first half of the book was even necessary except to trigger the events that cause the road trip. The character of Julie, as well as The Reality Factory and everything involved, becomes highly irrelevant aside from triggering the chaos. And overall, the epilogue seemed to just try too hard to wrap everything up neatly, and it seemed to drag in places (though there were numerous parts in the rest of the book that seemed unnecessary or dragged, as well).

But there were a lot of positives with the book. It was highly original and creative, and it was an incredibly interesting read. And, as I said, there was quite a bit of it that was funny (at least in the first half). And there was a twist about halfway through the book (right before the chaos ensues) that completely took me off guard, which is a good thing with me. I like when stories can surprise me. And I never knew which souls were going to take over next. With Andy Gage’s body, it could have been any number of them. With Penny, it was usually Maledicta, though it would go to somebody else on a rare occasion (such as Loins, or a guy named Duncan, which happened like… once). But Maledicta seemed to be the most common soul with Penny (meaning there is a LOT of cursing in the book, even in probably grammatically incorrect locations).

Overall, I think there is about an equal amount of things to either like or dislike about the book (at least for me). I think there were some things that could have been trimmed down on, such as the need to over-describe stuff. It just made certain places drag. Also, Matt Ruff really likes commas in unnecessary places (where somebody might pause in their speech, usually, which is not usually the grammatical place to put a comma). So yeah, if you’re up for an original or creative story and you don’t mind that it is rather heavy in child abuse of basically every kind, then I’d suggest it. And if you liked Adaptation (and/or it didn’t make your brain melt), then you could give this a chance, as well.

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