House Rules by P-HarpercollinsPubl


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									House Rules
Author: Rachel Sontag

At an early age, Rachel Sontag realized there was something deeply wrong with her father. On the
surface, he was a well-respected, suburban physician. But questioning his authority led to brutal fights;
disobedience meant humiliating punishments. When she was twelve, he duct-taped her stereo dial to
National Public Radio, measured the length of her hair and fingernails with a ruler, and regulated when
she could shower.A memoir of a father obsessed with control and the daughter who fights his suffocating
grasp, House Rules explores the complexities of their compelling and destructive relationship, and his
equally manipulative relationships with his wife and other daughter. As Rachel's mother cedes all her
power to her husband, and her sister fades into the background of their family life, Rachel fights to
escape, and, later, to make sense of what remains of her family.

There was a time before. There is always a time before. It was a time we can all look back on with a
certain nostalgic affection. Not because things were easy, but because we all knew our place in relation
to Dad.It was before I turned ten. Jenny was seven. We slept in the same bed. We bathed together. Dad
referred to us as "the children," and because we were "the children," because there was nothing
distinguishing us from each other, we fought on the same team.Dad appeared to us as stubborn and
erratic, but he was our dad and each of us was desperately trying to feel our way to his heart. Mom was
her own person. She had a laugh that filled a room. She set up watercolor paints on the kitchen table,
clay on the floor, mixed newspaper with water and paste so we could make papier mâché masks.We 
lived in a house with a yard. We had a dog. We traveled frequently. We saw our parents above us, our
protectors, the people who turned our lights on in the morning and off again at night so we could sleep.
Jenny and I hurt to hear them fighting, to think there might be something wrong with the foundation upon
which we built our images. It was normal stuff that concerned us all back then. But things were beginning
to change. Mom was losing her footing.When I was eleven and Jenny was eight, we attempted to
smuggle our Barbie dolls across the Mexican border, to vacation with us in Cancún, where they could 
sunbathe and swim in the bathtub.Jenny's Barbies were in better condition. She didn't stick their heads in
bowls of blue food coloring like I did. She didn't chew their feet off. We married some, divorced others,
baptized their babies and threw bat mitzvahs. We traded their clothing and the high heeled plastic shoes
that never quite fit their overly arched feet. We pulled their arms off and taped them back on with Dad's
duct tape. We broke their legs so we could build wheelchairs. We gave them names that we'd wanted for
ourselves: Brigitte, Kimberly, Tina.The dolls got as far as O'Hare. In the baggage check line, Dad caught
sight of the circular cookie tin under Jenny's arm. His face soured."Ellen. What's in the tin?"Mom looked
at it as if it was an alien object she'd never seen before.We were standing behind a family of four with a
boy and a girl around our age. Bratty looking, I thought. The girl's fingers were wrapped around the neck
of a pink stuffed animal. The boy wore a Hard Rock Cafe shirt that came down to his knees. The dad
toted golf clubs. The mom wore heels.The ticket agent motioned us toward the counter. "How y'all
doing?" she asked. No one answered."How many bags y'all checking today?" she asked, smiling at
Dad.I watched her thin, frosted lips move automatically. Not very good at reading people, I decided. She
didn't seem to realize that something was the matter."Sir, how many bags y'all have?"Probably she
wasn't from the South but had flown there several times and enjoyed the sound of the accent.Dad
gestured for the ticket agent to hold on as he waved the three of us out of line. We moved off to the side.
Mom stood with her mouth agape, hands on her hips.Dad examined her as if she were a piece of art he
found only slightly interesting."What's in the tin, Ellen?"Mom fumbled with her purse.The next family
stepped up. Kids with yellow headphones stuck on their ears. "The girls' stuff," Mom said."Stuff?" he
said. "What kind of stuff?"Jenny and I knew when it was going to get bad. We could always feel it. Dad
was about to launch an attack that Mom could not deflect, and we...
Author Bio
Rachel Sontag
Rachel Sontag was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois. She received her MFA in creative writing from
The New School. She lives in New York City. This is her first book.

Sontag's is a brave account, not only of what it's like to take the brunt of an abusive parent's wrath, but of
what it means to have the courage to leave.

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