Winner of the Anne Powers Award

Dream House Cover

Best Books of 2009

--Kirkus Review


Top Ten First Novels of 2009



"Valerie Laken has written the perfect haunted house story for these unnerving times. While the ghosts that come with this property don’t rattle chains or shake the bed at night, they manifest themselves in subtler and crueler ways, by reminding us that the homes we love may not love us back. [...] Having assembled the plot machinery for a sturdy thriller, Laken does none of the expected things. Instead, she uses the framework to support an ambitious study of people in search of a home -- 'home' being a metaphor for the elusive something that defines and validates the self. Kate may be the main character, but everyone in the novel has a relationship with the old wreck she’s restoring. What she alone comes to understand is that every house has its own history, which can’t be scrubbed clean, and its own soul, which can’t be bought."

--The New York Times Book Review


"Dream House is more than a complex book. It is an intricate one, weaving past and present, rage and restoration into a fascinating mosaic of conflicted emotions. I wanted to 'stretch' it -- not to come to the final page. It sounds ridiculous, but I actually miss the book; as I type this, I am undergoing minor withdrawal symptoms. [...] A miracle of story-telling. Dream House is a novel that, once picked up, will be so hard to put down as to inspire an all-nighter."
--The Charlottesville Daily Progress

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More Reviews

"Dream House is a novel of elegant, poised assurance. It is a penetrating portrayal of people unraveling and a suspenseful story of four characters on a fiery collision course."
--The Minneapolis Star Tribune

"This isn't a haunted-house story in the traditional sense, but it's still just as chilly. Valerie Laken's eerily enticing home with a bloody past forces its present and past inhabitants into a kind of spooked hopelessness, squashing any possibility of fulfilling the American dream. Laken juggles the multiple story lines in Dream House with ease..."
--Entertainment Weekly

"The publication of Valerie Laken's thoughtful, tender, first novel is aptly timed, as shock waves from the subprime-mortgage meltdown continue to rattle the economy. The story of two very different families whose destinies are intertwined in a small, clapboard house in Ann Arbor, Mich., Dream House reminds us of the risks Americans are willing to take to own their own home and how desperately they want to believe this will solve every problem."

--The Chicago Tribune


"Laken's artful dissection of the human psyche—as starkly contrasted by the great divides of class and race... compels the reader to take a deeper look into what truly constitutes happiness."
--The Detroit Metro Times


"When you read Laken's first novel, you'll be keeping your eyes open for her next one. [...] Laken's writing sparkles with frequent stunning images [...] and flashes of humor. [...] And while there is sadness and tragedy in full doses here, in Laken's peoples' lives and in the larger social circumstances that surround and often confine them, in the end there is also hope, healing and even redemption."

--The Ann Arbor Current


“Everyone knows that houses take on lives of their own. Valerie Laken’s beautifully designed Dream House is carefully and craftily constructed; in fact, it is a perfectly plausible and rational ghost story: sexy, sharp-eyed, and deeply haunted all at once. The past never goes away. It is still there, inside the walls of this wonderful book.”
--Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love


“Laken is masterful at character construction as she explores issues of race and class and conveys the wreckage of individual lives and the emotions evoked by a house that is the source of joy and dreams as well as the site of tragedy.”
--Booklist (starred review)

“Laken handles the fraught subjects of class, race, and family bonds with equal candor and sensitivity in this powerful book.”
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


“Laken is an excellent writer.”
--Library Journal


“A psychologically engrossing novel about the homes we make—in our houses, in our neighborhoods, and in the hearts of our loved ones. Laken takes on that great unspoken American subject—class—and does so with frankness, acuity and surpassing feeling. Dream House is a memorable debut novel from a fully mature talent."
Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl


Dream House tells the compelling tale of those to whom a roof means more than merely shelter. There's a marriage at increasing risk, a history of violence, issues of class and race and secrecy and the stubborn compulsion to make of a nightmare a dream. As these ingredients suggest, it's a complex story--and Valerie Laken tells it with great skill. From first to final page, hers is a beautifully built novel and an astonishing debut.”
--Nicholas Delbanco, author of What Remains


“Valerie Laken knows the dreams we dream of houses, and the way those houses retain our dreams long after we’ve moved away. Houses are our history and our art, the receptacles of our worst crimes and our happiest celebrations; they are the wood and brick and plaster records of our culture, the spaces in which so many related and unrelated lives intertwine and intersect. In Dream House, Valerie Laken has built for us an elegantly constructed novel with quietly polished yet dazzling lines, and she has peopled it with heartbreakingly convincing characters, both male and female, old and young, black and white, well off and barely scraping by, all of whom, in their struggle to find shelter and love and a sense of belonging and identity, come to represent us all.”
--Eileen Pollack, author of In the Mouth


“With the vividness of our most lucid dreams, Valerie Laken brings us a collision of personal and community histories spanning generations and made palpable by a seemingly ordinary house. The house—like Laken’s richly-layered novel—stands as the site of hope and tragedy, death, and flawed, determined love. Dream House is a novel of great reckoning, and as its characters grapple with family legacies and the meanings of home, we too confront the destruction of dreams, the fragility of peace, and the complex nature of resilience. Laken’s deft, generous, and brave debut will stay with you long after you’ve closed its covers.”
--Nancy Reisman, author of The First Desire and House Fires

"Offers insights into the fragility of home, family, and neighborhood. . . . [A] thoughtful debut. . . . Compelling reflections on broad issues such as neighborhood gentrification and the American dream as well as the personal struggles involved with marriage, family, and the creation of a home."

--Publishers Weekly


"I read the whole book in a weekend and haven't felt the same since."
--The Ann Arbor Observer


"Laken is a writer to watch."
--Bookmarks Magazine