White Elephant

Julie Langsdorf

eAudio - 2019

The White Elephant looms large over the quaint suburban town of Willard Park: a gaudy, newly constructed behemoth of a home, it soars over the neighborhood, dwarfing the houses that surround it. When owner Nick Cox cuts down Allison and Ted Millers' precious red maple-in an effort to make his unsightly property more appealing to buyers-their once serene town becomes a battleground. While tensions between Ted and Nick escalate, other dysfunctions abound: Allison finds herself compulsively dr...awn to the man who is threatening to upend her quietly organized life. A lawyer with a pot habit and a serious midlife crisis skirts his responsibilities. And in a quest for popularity, a teenage girl gets caught up in a not-so-harmless prank. Newcomers and longtime residents alike begin to clash in conflicting pursuits of the American Dream, with trees mysteriously uprooted, fires set, fingers pointed, and lines drawn. White Elephant is an uproarious, tangled-web tale of neighbor hating neighbor (and neighbor falling head over heels for neighbor). Soon, peaceful Willard Park becomes a tinderbox with nowhere to go but up in flames.

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[United States] : HarperAudio 2019.
Physical Description
1 online resource (1 audio file (9hr., 54 min.)) : digital
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Main Author
Julie Langsdorf (-)
Corporate Author
hoopla digital (-)
Other Authors
Allyson Ryan (-)
Review by New York Times Review

Langsdorf announces what her novel will be about - marriage and real estate - in its jaunty opening lines: "Allison Miller lay in bed in the dim light of early morning thinking about sex. It was the hammering on the new house being built next door that was responsible, the rhythmic pound, pound, .." The pounding is the work of Nick Cox, a real estate developer who has already built himself a tastelessly huge house on Tun law Place, a block of tastefully small bungalows, and is in the process of building another. The Miller house is sandwiched between the monoliths. Allison's husband, Ted, is lying in bed next to her but he is too irate about the new construction to think about sex, let alone have it. Allison can't remember the last time she and Ted made love. Although she loathes Nick Cox's gaudy construction projects, Allison's thoughts about the man have taken a carnal turn. The Millers aren't the only couple on Tun law Place with marital and real estate problems. Suzanne and Grant move into a house that is too small for their growing family. Suzanne, serious and driven, thinks of Grant as her Eliza Doolittle and has tried to transform him into the husband she wants, persuading him to stop blowdrying his hair and dress "more Brooks Brothers and less J.C. Penney." Alas, the makeover hasn't fully taken. Grant won't stop smoking weed or texting his unambitious high school friends. Moreover, he doesn't really understand why everyone is so down on Nick Cox and his gigantic houses. Grant secretly digs the man's McMansion: "Everything was padded. Everything was shiny and enormous. Grant wanted to leap onto the sectional leather sofa in the media room like a kid jumping into a pile of leaves." And, really, who wouldn't? While skewering its vacuity and vulgarity, Langsdorf captures the sensuous allure of confident, over-the-top American consumerism. Nick Cox is uncomplicated and virile, his houses are appalling but comfortable. Like Tom Perrotta's "Little Children" and Maria Semple's "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," "White Elephant" exposes middle-class domestic malaise with a light comedic touch.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 11, 2019] Review by Booklist Review

All is not well in Willard Park. The seemingly idyllic suburb outside Washington, D.C., quickly becomes a battleground as developer Nick pushes forward his ostentatious construction projects, raising the ire of his neighbor Ted. The last straw for Ted is Nick's destruction of the precious red maple tree Ted had planted for his daughter. As Ted begins a campaign for a temporary moratorium on building houses in the town, more trees are mysteriously felled. Meanwhile, Ted's wife is harboring an illicit attraction to his nemesis, their teenage daughter is being drawn into a noxious search for popularity, and a newcomer to the town ends up having to handle much more than she bargained for. Langsdorf gleefully skewers small-town stereotypes, such as the sharp and ambitious real-estate agent, the suburban dad hiding a pot habit, and the sorority sister who can't figure out how she ended up unhappy. But beneath the caricatures are deeper truths about belonging, community, and relationships. In this smartly satirical novel, the raging feud reveals much about the residents' core values.--Bridget Thoreson Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The "white elephant" of Langsdorf's lively and entertaining debut refers to the architectural abomination of a house that's been constructed in Willard Park, a D.C. suburb known for its trees and friendliness. The Millers, who live next door to the White Elephant, find their lives disrupted by the construction of both the house and the swaggering builder behind it, Nick Cox. Allison Miller has to juggle stagnation, in both her creative and sex lives, with a dangerously escalating attraction to Nick, whose very existence antagonizes her husband-especially after Nick accidentally fells a tree that Ted and Allison had planted for their daughter, Jillian. Meanwhile, quiet and socially unassuming preteen Jillian is embarking on an illicit friendship with Nick's precocious daughter, Lindy. Besides the Millers and the Coxes, there's also Suzanne and Grant Davenport-Gardner, new to the neighborhood after Grant was fired from his last job at a law firm for smoking weed. As the lives of these Willard Park residents overlap and intersect over a six-month period, affairs are conducted, houses are built and knocked down, and a community is irreversibly changed. As with many ensemble novels, some characters do not get the development they deserve, most notably Nick's wife, Kaye, a flighty-seeming Southern belle. Nevertheless, this ambitious and intriguing work about the American suburbs is perfect for fans of Ann Patchett or Meg Wolitzer. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

DEBUT Willard Park is a charming suburb of Washington, DC, with a small-town flavor and a simmering stew of growing resentments. Tree-lined streets and 100-year-old Sears catalog homes are under attack by Nick Cox, a transplanted Southern builder and developer with a thirst for tasteless, ostentatious McMansions. Ted and Allison Miller are sandwiched between the oversized abode of Cox and his hapless wife, Kaye, on one side, and the White Elephant, so dubbed by the locals, a monstrosity Nick is building-to-sell on the other side. Ted is obsessed with the trees being lost in all the construction and the mysterious destruction of other beloved trees throughout the town. Allison, a photographer working on a book of her town, despairs of Ted's dormant libido. Add to the growing tensions that spill over into the community is the disturbing friendship between the two couples' teen daughters. Debut novelist Langsdorf's sure hand lays bare the secrets and hypocrisies of 21st-century American communities hell-bent on preserving what may never have been as they stumble awkwardly toward the light of what could be with just a touch of perspective. VERDICT Funny, spot-on satire relevant in today's divisive noise-machine of battling egos.-Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Residents of a self-consciously quaint Washington, D.C., suburb end up at war when a wealthy family moves in."One couldn't, in all honesty, accuse Nick Cox of starting the 'big house' craze in Willard Park. The tearing down and building up had started long before he moved in....Now houses wrapped in shimmering Tyvek slips were a common sight. Latino gardeners spilled out of trucks in the springtime along with wheelbarrows full of mulch and trees with round, burlap bottoms." Langsdorf's debut social satire gets off to a promising start, laying out the tensions in a town on the cusp of change through the conflicts simmering on one block of Tunlaw Place. At its center are Ted and Allison, a nice couple who've lived in Willard Park for almost 14 years. Their problems were no worse than the usual dull marriage/adolescent daughter scenario until the philistines arrived, building a castle on one side of them and a mammoth spec housethe titular "white elephant"on the other. As the town divides bitterly over a proposed building moratorium, a mysterious tree murderer hits the streets with a chainsaw, ravaging the arboreal population. Langsdorf's not-too-endearing cast includes several villains (two bullies and one pot smoker), a couple of saints (tree-hugger Ted and his intellectually disabled twin), and two central female characters who should be easier to keep straight than they are. An almost Shirley Jackson-esque view of human nature emerges when the bulletin board at the local cafe spontaneously blooms with tattletale notes: "Melanie Frank said her black walnut trees are 'not worth the trouble'." "Ana Lopez cheats on her taxes." "Antoine Beignet has a second family in Toledo." After a surprisingly cruel climax, a cleanup chapter can't quite make the skies blue again. A dark comedy with more darkness than comedy. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.